Network Administration Thermodynamics

by Sean D. Conway

In the human network, administrators struggle to understand those they serve (managers and users) and live at peace in their network. At times, it becomes necessary to expand administrators' universe of hardware and software to include the sciences of thermodynamics and chemistry to increase their powers of survival.

Network administrators have to hone their compression skills if they hope to live with the state of constant flux that exists in IT departments. Compression skills allow administrators to collect large amounts of information, compress it and extract what is required to solve a problem. Compression also enables the administrator to use other people's knowledge and experiences to solve problems they themselves have. Notice the common theme? Problem solving.

A valuable aid to compression is classifying. I have developed three categories using my limited knowledge of physics and chemistry to classify the many masters that administrators are required to serve. The three categories are endothermic users, exothermic users and toxic users.

Endothermic users are those whose energy content output exceeds the energy content of the reactant. An admin can invest a small amount of energy into an endothermic user--showing them how to install a print driver--and the resulting output is greater than the energy expended. In this case, the user installs the driver on all the other systems in the department that need it.

Exothermic users are those whose energy content output is less than the energy content of the reactant. An admin can invest a large amount of energy in an exothermic user--showing them how to install a print driver five different times--and the resulting output is less than the energy expended. In this case, the user calls and asks if the admin can install a print driver.

Toxic users are users whose energy content output is negative without the presence of a reactant. Toxic users or toxic help are users who efforts reduce or hinder any efforts you have made to produce results. For example, toxic users delete all the print drivers on a computer before installing the wrong print driver. Of course, this all is done before they call to ask you to install a print driver.

Most administrators have only one classification for users; one variation is PIBKAC--problem is between keyboard and chair. Unfortunately, this attitude can have a negative affect on system administration. The common reactant for solving problems is energy, and administrators have a finite amount energy to invest. If an administrator can classify a user using the suggested categories before investing his/her energy, then the administrator has an opportunity to decide how much energy he/she is willing to invest. I hypothesize the administrator would invest larger amounts of energy into the endothermic users and less in the exothermic users. The result is an increase in problem-solving energy. The recommendation to administrators for toxic users is to classify them as fast as possible, so you can isolate them from being involved in any reaction. The output from toxic uses is always a drain on energy. Your goal is to minimize the drain.

To practice putting users in these three categories, I created the following test, called Classifying Users in Thermodynamics (CUIT), pronounced "cute".

A user asks for your help to solve a problem and takes notes during your explanation. This user has the potential to be a:

  • a) toxic user

  • b) exothermic user

  • c) endothermic user

A user asks for help to solve a problem and then finishes typing an e-mail while you explain the solution. This user the potential to be a:

  • a) endothermic user

  • b) toxic user

  • c) exothermic user

A user asks for help, takes notes during your explanation and then doesn't follow the notes. He instead decides he knows a better way of doing it. This user has the potential to be a:

  • a) endothermic user

  • b) exothermic user

  • c) toxic user

Many administrators would admit their networks would be perfect if only they didn't have users. A network without users, however, would be a network without need for administrators. Hopefully, this small insight might give energy-depleted administrators a badly needed recharge.

Sean D. Conway is a former college instructor turned network system specialist for a regional telecommunications company in Canada.

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