A Stranger In A Strange Land…

Pickled herring, salted licorice, sports I don’t comprehend and a language I don’t speak. At the outset, Sweden seemed like a place that I just wasn’t going to fit in. But certain foods can become an acquired taste (if you stay away from Burger King and McDonalds) and oddly enough, the people out here speak English better than I do. But best of all there is a Mac Systems Administrative community here in Northern Europe that comes together at MacSysAdmin; one that is filled with the same challenges that we all face.

It’s a community, like many around the world, filled with a quest for more knowledge on the platform that we are charged with managing and as I’ve been learning over the past couple of years, indicative of that quest on a global scale.┬áThere is a lack of centralized virtualization infrastructures capable of running Mac OS X and failing guest machines over to new hardware automatically, one that various organizations claim that there is not enough of a market to warrant further development for. There is disagreement amongst the community with such a seemingly non-caring point of view and a desire to have some of the best that the emerging private clouds for other platforms have.

There is also an increasing level of skill with Open Directory, mass deployment, administrative scripting and automation, fostering collaboration and managed preferences. The fight against spam is equal to the fight to run messaging on Apple hardware. The desire for ZFS is seemingly never-ending. For those of us managing large Mac OS X-based environments these are common themes.

But above all else, the most common theme in the systems administrative communities is a desire to give users an experience with their desktops that is unrivaled; not restrictive while also being centrally manageable and allow the users to get the same level of capacity at all things creative that brought many of us into the platform in the first place. As our environments grow we realize that we need to lock these systems down, but we do so begrudgingly because we know that those limitations that keep the cost of keeping up the software that runs on these systems are the very limitations that cause many Windows-centric users such animosity towards their systems (and by virtue their systems administrators).

We simply don’t want to fall into that same trap. Many of us are well versed in ITIL, but we look at that paradigm as one that is broken. Maybe because we are not so removed from our users, so cynical. We see the lack of joy that administrators and users take from other platforms; we see them with a MacBook on their desk at work, but we still see them somewhat as strangers.

There are certainly other options. Consumerization in IT is on the rise. A number of applications in many environments have been moved to web based applications to open up the use of NetBook-style computers. But this has still only touched a limited number of users. Self management is also on the rise, with user bases being more well versed with managing their own computers than ever. Some restrictions still need to be put in place; but there are limited options that still allow centralized control and many environments consider these too costly. And many a Mac Systems Administrator still has a limited purview into how the other, more standardized environments are managed within their organizations. Many of these simply seem like salted licorice or some other food that is foreign to us.

It seems we are at a stand-still.

There are a lot of important lessons in managing IT infrastructure that have been learned. Therefore there is no reason for us to reinvent the wheel, but rather to refine the approach to one that is better suited to our needs. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will try to document my own emergent theories on how to take the lessons that have been learned from the big brother approach to IT and bridge the gap into the Mac OS X platform. To review the ITIL methodology and the paradox that exists between the creativity that we want to foster with Mac OS X. Ultimately I hope to indicate alternatives that will allow for us to address the needs of the organization while maintaining the very reason that the platform has been on the rise. But we need to be speaking the same language, or to speak that language better than those who manage other platforms. We need to bring constructive approaches to the table. Sure, it’s an acquired taste, but given a little time we’ll no longer be strangers in strange lands…

One comment

  • September 19, 2009 - 12:31 pm | Permalink

    good post. i’m interested in hearing more of your thoughts on the state of mac sysadmin.

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