After Hours

At the university, and within the field in general it seems, there are three primary shifts we work. First shift is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., second shift begins around 3 p.m. and goes until midnight, and third shift begins around 12 a.m. and ends at 8 a.m. We have some flexibility with those within Computer Services, and in particular our lab supervisors flex their hours a bit to ensure the best coverage, but within Microcomputer Support we’re strictly first shift. The business hours for the university are officially during the day, and we primarily support faculty and staff, so we need to be here during the same hours.

Unfortunately, there is always some sort of work that needs to be done during off-hours. Production servers that can’t be taken down during the regular day, or labs that need to be rebuilt but are in use during business hours. Our second shift lab supervisors are able to shoulder some of that burden, but occasionally we, as in Microcomputer Support, just have to work late.

As Banner go-live approaches, it seems we’re all picking up some extra hours. On the plus side, I suppose, our group (User Support) is “non-exempt,” which means the university pays us overtime. This is compared with pretty much all the rest of Computer Services who are overtime exempt, which means the university can ask them to work fifty hours a week and their pay doesn’t change. Overtime exempt employees, however, start off with twice as much vacation time and generally higher pay, though, so their compensation is built-in.

My primary project right now is setting up the documentation repository for Banner, which I’ve been able to do during normal business hours (when I’ve managed to find time for it, which isn’t always available). Banner training began yesterday, however, so the server is officially being used during the day and I can no longer tinker with it during my regular shift. As such, I was here late last night and will likely be late at least one other night this week. It is something I try to avoid, but it is becoming increasingly inevitable.

We have to be here during our shift, but if there’s work to do that takes additional or different times, you just have to suck it up and do it. What’s important is completing the work with the least impact on the end-user, and if that means working while the end-user is sleeping, then that’s what we’ll do. It’s what makes us User Support Specialists.

Just say no to IIS

Our university is not exclusively a Microsoft shop, but it sometimes feels like it is. We predominantly have Microsoft Windows PCs, all of our computer labs run Windows, most of our office computers, and the vast majority of our servers. Therefore, when I’ve had to build web servers for our department in the last year, they’ve always run Server 2003 and IIS. Quite frankly, I’m sick of it. My first webserver was Mandriva Linux running the LAMP stack, and though it was quite a learning experience resulting in reinstalling the operating system probably twenty times over the course of a month, I came to vastly prefer Linux over Windows. I now run Linux on all of my computers, both work and home, but I persisted in installing Windows Server on machines I built at work.

The justification was that no one else knew Linux, or at least not within our group. I wanted to build servers that others would be able to log into and administrate comfortably, if for no other reason than that I didn’t want to have to do all of the work. So I wrestled with IIS and ISAPI filters for redirection and poor SSL handling for encrypting logon pages and memory leaks and instability, just the whole gamut of problems one tends to run into when using Windows. The sad part is that I now have BSD on a second partition of my work computer, and even thoughts of that fill me with more warm fuzzies than having to put up with IIS.

Well, no more. I’m building a new web virtual machine for our wiki software, and today I configured the latest version of Ubuntu Server on it. I refused to touch the last version of Ubuntu Server (7.10) because it wasn’t mature enough yet. Last Thursday however, an LTS (long-term service) release of Ubuntu’s server edition dropped (version 8.04), and so I am more comfortable putting that on a production server.

So far, so good. I was able to get XFCE4 desktop manager on it with minimum fuss (once Ubuntu’s repository servers stopped getting hammered by everyone trying to acquire the software after release), and I have Confluence running smoothly. There were a couple of frustrating moments where something wouldn’t work right, but invariably a restart fixed it (like when I copied over a JDCB .jar file and it hadn’t been initiated yet because I hadn’t restarted the service, yet I was stupidly looking at my screen wondering why it wasn’t working).

Tomorrow, or Wednesday at the latest, I hope to get it setup as a mail server as well. It looks like that process is going to be significantly more difficult than it was with Windows, where I just installed hMailServer, but it’ll be a good learning experience if nothing else. And the most important part: no more IIS.