Kevin Dominik KorteOne of the most staggering experiences I had when transferring from our Professional Services team to North American management was that suddenly I got into the first line of contact with the potential customer. Suddenly the filter, which was the German Sales team, was gone and I had to handle all customer questions directly. It was a fascinating experience though, because I suddenly didn’t just have to do the work I was used to but also had to explain what our Consulting Team is usually doing and why the customer has to pay for it.

“Best of” different customer stories

The following story is a sample of the “very best” of the different customer stories I have experienced in the US. While certainly none of our customers had such big problems with its IT infrastructure like the ones I describe in this article, the story gives a nice idea of what members of Univention’s Professional Services actually do whenever we reach out to a customer who really needs an integrated and structured IT system to be successful in his daily work and get his IT under control. You also learn how we at Univention can help customers to migrate to a solution fitting their company.

So let’s jump into our story

Waking up in a motel room in some remote American town in the midwest is always an experience, but sometimes it isn’t possible to log into a customer’s system remotely. No matter whether the company policies prevent that or start at a level where there is little IT to work with in the beginning. Typically, these are surprisingly large and successful customers in remote towns without a major airport, a combination I have yet to understand. This time it was again the case. The company was relatively young, having grown from 20 people to over 200 in a bit over half a decade, withstanding any calls that American manufacturing is dead.

Rapid growth lead to IT chaos

IT ChaosUnsurprisingly, the IT system had to grow at the same pace from 4 desktops in the mid of the first decade of the century to a conglomerate of servers, services and cloud applications on the one side and a variety of desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones on the user side. An old Novel E-Directory, bought used in 2007 I was told, used by Sales stood next to a Windows SBS shared by Accounting and HR. Several additional Windows and Linux servers provided groupware, file sharing, chat, wiki, VPN, and many additional services for different employees. 38 different systems I was told with overlapping tasks and unclear management structures and 3 overworked admins, that couldn’t keep pace with the fast growth. Surprisingly, it worked or better had worked for the last years, that is until someone got interested in the company’s internal knowledge base.

Critical information leaked

The admin immediately noticed that one of the servers had crashed, its logs and, thus its hard drive, had been filled with access denied messages for a user who, of course, had no reason to access the server. When traversing the servers, they found out that the user in question had however accessed numerous files, including the current engineering work and the ongoing research and development, all within the last hours of the night. How could that have happened?

It turned out to be rather simple. DSC07884.JPGThe user had uploaded his VPN key to his Dropbox account to copy it to his personal tablet. Naturally, the passwords for both Dropbox and his internal account where easily guessed once you entered his name into Google. Boom, someone on the other end of the world got into the IT system and had access to all the company data.

After this had happened, the customer decided to listen to his admins and overhaul his IT systems, including the purchase of UCS to replace most of his infrastructure, augmented by additional services from our ISV Partners. The task was relatively clear – get everything from the old systems to the new one. 31 desktops and rack-based servers, lovingly called pizza boxes, 4 NAS systems and 3 clouds had to be moved into one connected domain. Most admins now will wonder about 31 servers, what about virtualization? What about consolidating services on fewer servers? Rather simple, no one ever had time to look into the topic and money was never really budgeted. So whenever a new system was needed, the zoo grew resulting in 31 servers idling most of the time. UCS was about to change it, drastically reducing the pool and overhead by using KVM and the UCS Virtual Machine Manager.

Giving order and control back to the IT

The first task of the day on the agreed battle plan was then to install a DC slave for managing the virtualization on the latest and thus least used server. A DC slave was chosen, because the master was to run within the virtual environment. The NAS systems were later used as NFS-Shares to store the VMs enabling easy migration.

The only system with a reasonably well-structured user list and maintained policies was the old Small Business Server from HR and Accounting. Due to clients being joined into that domain and roaming profiles being used, it was decided to take over the domain using the Active Directory Takeover.
Importing the remaining users was made easy by the UDM command line interface. Joining the NAS systems and installing additional UCS slaves and member servers was made easy by UCS’s inbuild services. Additional applications came with a single click from the UCS App Center.
The last step was to integrate some legacy applications. These were able to use the LDAP for user name and password. However, the user needed to be created manually in the application. To get around this need, we created a listener to act whenever a user was modified and transferred these changes into the different applications.
After 3 days at the customer site the first step was finally done. The customer had an integrated management system with all desktops integrated into the domain. The first applications were integrated and finally a virtualization system was in place.

Summing it up, yes, this would certainly be one of the most extreme customer scenarios we could imagine here in the US, but it shows the versatility in skills that my colleagues in Professional Services need to have. It also shows that it is important for the IT department to take control of the IT and not let the IT control the IT department.

Photo Credit: “Server Cabling” – Artform CanadaCC BY 2.0 / “Hacker Dojo”
Jeff KeyzerCC BY 2.0

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Kevin Dominik Korte studied computer sciences at the Jacobs University in Bremen. He graduated as a Master of Science in 2011. Afterwards, he worked in the Professional Services Team at Univention for two years. Since 2013 he is President of Univention North America Inc. and responsible for the business development in the USA.

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