Working at OA

There has been some resentment against IT recently - while this isn't an entirely new thing and while I can not answer for the whole IT team, I thought clarifying what I am working on, the progress on some projects, and trying to explain the reason behind my slightly unusual  working scheme might be a step forward. 

 What I do

While there is no official job description for it, my job title is "Systems Manager". It is quite difficult to define and overlaps on some other people jobs, but very roughly: if anything is supposed to be running all the time (and is not directly related to networks) - then I am probably involved. Here we go down the list:

  • Emails (Zimbra)
  • File storage (mostly on the new servers)
  • Hosting for in-house websites (timesheets, tenders, environmental, fromelles-db...)
  • Deployment and hosting of other websites (wikis, forums, blogs, office' websites, ...)
  • Backups (to some extent, Paul and Porntep also working on that)
  • Remote access (NoMachine)
  • Monitoring (we get mails when something behaves weirdly)
  • "Virtualisation" technology - basically it is what allows us to have several servers on a physical box (run 2 windows XP, 3 windows 2000 and 10 linux Ubuntu on a single box, for example).
You can add a lot of small jobs next to this: I developed the initial version of the OACD, created the future website, was involved in the on-site recording software with ben (sadly on hold at the moment), spent a lot of time documenting our infrastructure... To give you an idea, we are managing over 100 servers (that doesn't include your laptop and desktops) accross 5 offices now (plus fromelles, st brieuc, and other significant sites).


I think everyone will have noticed that we've finally finished the move to Zimbra - which was a very painful and time consuming task. There are a few little quirks, but it is globally pretty reliable, and the amount of tickets related to this is pretty low.

Work on virtualisation is quite time consuming and also at the core of our system: we are not allowed to get this wrong, as all services would suffer. Here as well, the deployment is 90% finished (although this has probably gone unnoticed to many of you). It works well, we are working on more features and performance improvements now.

File storage is probably a big concern for many of you in OA South, where there have been numerous complaints over the current project folders - a significant number of you refusing to work with it, and using email, local pc, or other shared folders to deal with their work. There is a lot of work going on at the moment to address these concerns. Among those:

  • A cheap and big (albeit slow) storage has been purchased to solve disk space issues. This storage will be used for finished projects, archives from the archives department, backups of ex-users emails and home folders, ... The server has been purchased, installed, and is being deployed as I write.
  • All the project folders will be unified in a single server. This work is ongoing. There are permissions issues that need to be solved for some projects.
  • The old servers (server1, server3, etc) are expected to be retired by the end of autumn.

File storage is certainly our next biggest challenge - and there are drastic restrictions and controls that come with better management that many of you will probably have a hard time to cope with in a first place. I believe this is the price we will have to pay.

Remote access: working well so far. We now have over 70 people that are able to connect to a remote desktop from home. As far as I've understood the company's policy, remote work is accepted were suitable - check with your line manager.

 Backups: a lot of work is going on to improve the level of backup; more data will be backed-up off-site, more regularly. We are at the deployment stage of a new "backup to tape" system.

 How I work

Many will have noticed that I am no longer working from inside the UK. I believe other non-english nationals working for OA know how it feels do be in a foreign country for so long - as far as I was concerned staying in the UK for longer than two years wasn't an option. I love my job though (I really do) so I am thrilled to be able to continue to work from abroad.

Quite frankly: for my job, it doesn't make such a big difference. I am working exclusively on the servers that are in the server room next to the graphic office; so whether I am remotely connected from my office in Oxford or from another country, I see pretty much the same on my screen.

 I also have working hours that slightly differ from the usual ones. I hope the people who reported this are not the same complaining that a maintenance is taking place during the day :) also have to regularly deal with people in US timezones. Finally, for most of my work, it doesn't matter much at what time I do it, as it doesn't involve dealing with anyone else. I still try to be available most of the normal working hours, though, as I have to give the best response time to your support tickets (IT staff in Oxford actually has to answer queries from all offices).

 Regarding the question why we had problems dealing with people joining and leaving the company: we just have no way to guess when someone joins or leaves unless someone tells us...

 So, I hoped I answered a few questions... feel free to comment if you got others that I haven't replied to. And, why not, ask me for a blog, and blog about your experience working for OA :)



To be honest, I have worked very happy with the IT Department and have got along with all of them (you) from the Head of Department to the guys doing a placement. I think it's the only dep't in which I used to talk to everybody regularly. As far as I am concerned, my work and 'interaction' with IT has run always smoothly and I'm very satisfied with the help and assistance I have received every time I have needed it.

But the thing is that I may have some IT skills and knowledge slightly above the average. And that's something that helps to understand what each of you is doing and how I can maximise the results of my work with you and yours with me. But that's something that I know not everybody understands. I have heard often 'the guys in IT are useless and every time I ask them something they tell me that's not their stuff'. I am quite happy with how your work made easier mine. But as far as my ears have heard, not everybody is, at all.

I knew that I could not ask you why my telephone was not working, I could not ask Tony why I can't find a server and I could not ask Joe why my cd-drive doesn't read the cd. It's just not what each of you do. But people don't know what you do and for many of them the IT dep't is just the IT dep't as a whole and all of you are the same and are supposed to do the same: dealing with computers and providing solutions to our problems, now. Otherwise, you are useless (that's why I think the IT Helpdesk was a great idea as the ticket is assigned to the person who can actually help instead of asking randomly the first member of the dep't you meet in the hall or the kithcen).

Whose fault is this lack of understanding/communication? The IT Department keeps everyone informed about what is going on through regular e-mails every time something fails, something is going to be changed, upgraded, fixed... And the nature of the e-mail (networks, Zimbra, telephones, hardware) depends on the person who has written it, i.e. the person in charge of that aspect within the dep't.

People should read those e-mails but, let's face it guys, they are long, boring and people don't understand what they say so they end up deleting them as soon as they realise (or realise that they don't realise) what they are about. I know this because even when it was me who wrote an e-mail to my own dep't related to some internal IT issue, it got absolutely ignored. Even more than once. And then I was asked about something I have told repeatedly on said e-mail(s).

So I think people should do an effort of read and try to understand what the e-mails say and they don't do it. But IT should do another effort of try to explain things in a different way, for 'ignorants' who are not keen on geeky stuff like that and you don't do it. Or maybe you do, but not in the right direction (I don't mean to blame anybody). I have heard from some of my colleagues that they understood better what the e-mail said after listening to me explaining it than after reading the message itself despite my faulty English and the difficulties I have to explain things related to a discipline which is not mine.

For example, I have heard complains about the migration to Open Office. People complain that they have been told to use Open Source Software but they haven't been told why and how (maybe they were but ignored that e-mail for being long and boring). After me explaining the wonders of the Open Software they have agreed that it is going to be good for the company and it is going to save plenty of money as well as allow us to develop our own tools. And I understand that because I'm into this stuff, but most of the people have to be explained the why's and how's in a 'normal language'. They will be happy and keen to use it after that. I promise. I've seen it. I've done it.

I don't know what the solution is. But IT dep't needs a 'translator' (someone or something) to make the information really understandable for the inexpert and even average IT user.

In short: something involving IT happens > IT sends an e-mail to inform everybody > everybody opens the e-mail > after 10 seconds everybody sees that they don't understand > everybody gets bored > everybody ignores it > nobody has been successfully informed.

Just my point of view after two years working in the company, the second of them working closely with IT dep't and also hearing what people thinks and they don't mind to tell me since I am not actually part of IT dep't. Good luck with finding the solution if someone else sees the problem :S

Posted by Rafa MJ on July 06, 2009 at 05:57 PM GMT+00:00 #

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