~Written by Matt Conlon
The business world has become a far more convenient place over the last ten years. Technology has put our data within arm’s length, pretty much anywhere we go. Mobile computing, wireless hot spots, cellular devices, cloud storage… it’s no wonder working remotely has become so common place.
The world of I.T. has also evolved. With respect to your I.T. needs, almost everything can be done remotely, short of physically manipulating hardware. It’s easy to think, “Just remote in and fix this issue”. Remote support can usually satisfy the need for immediate help, and gives us that instant gratification we’ve begun to expect. There are even I.T. companies out there who will come on site once to set everything up, and then you’ll never actually see them again. When you have an issue, they’ll remote in and troubleshoot. For them, the days of kicking you out of your chair and plugging away on your physical keyboard are over.
In many cases this sort of service is a God-send! You don’t have to wait for your tech to arrive, you get your issue addressed immediately, you don’t have to get up, and so on. It’s convenient for the tech too, in most cases. We don’t have to drive to your location so we save on gas and road rage. We don’t have to ask you to move from your desk. We don’t have to even touch your keyboard, which for the germophobes among us is always a bonus. We can even work in our shorts and T’s and flip flops if we want to. Many conveniences…
…But perhaps an even more important question than “Can this be done remotely”, is the question “Should this be done on site?” It is fine to handle some things remotely, but don’t let yourself get so comfortable with remote support that you lose out on the benefits of having someone come on site.
“We cannot see what we cannot see”
I recently visited a client whom I hadn’t seen in over two years. Perhaps a testament to how well things were set up; they hadn’t really had any issues that required our attention, and everything was handled by a fellow on site who knew enough to keep things moving in the right general direction.
They’d called to ask that I configure a couple of workstations. Certainly not an uncommon task to be handled remotely, but given that I hadn’t been there in two years, I recommended this be done on in person. They agreed. I bundled up my laptop and headed over.
While configuring the computers, I stopped into the server room. I logged into the server to remove old user accounts (something I may not have done, if I were working remotely), and I noticed that the battery backup unit wasn’t connected to the server. This means that if the power failed, the unit couldn’t send the shutdown command to the server. I installed the software, and found that the battery in the unit needed to be replaced.
Had they lost power, the battery backup would have failed, and their server would have gone offline. Servers don’t like when they lose power. This is one of the most common causes of data loss and operating system corruption. A ten-minute task on site can prevent thousands of dollars in data and productivity loss.
While I could have set up these computers remotely, the server would still be unprotected had I not gone on site.
Many tasks require a fair amount of waiting. Installing software can sometimes take a while, waiting for windows patches to download and install, moving data from one share to another, and so on. These are tasks that once set in motion, just crank along and require only minimal attention. Most of these things can also be done remotely.
The advantage to having someone come on site to do these things, is while the data is moving, or the patches are downloading, the tech can be doing something else that benefits the client. Checking out server logs, reviewing hardware specs, tidying up the server room, blowing dust out of the server, checking on user issues, documenting installation processes, doing a general audit, to name a few.
If an issue is addressed remotely, sure the task gets done, but these sorts of things I named above, likely won’t be.
A failed drive in a server RAID array is one of the most common server issues we come across. If it’s addressed properly, it’s usually not a very big deal. Generally, we replace the drive, the RAID rebuilds, and everyone moves on with their day.
The difficulty with this is that without specific monitoring software in place, you may not know there is a drive issue. There are alerts that can indicate this, typically a light on the drive turns from healthy green to amber. You can also see the alert in the hardware management software. However, if the server is not in line of sight, and you did not suspect a problem to begin with, you’d have no real reason to go check for drive failures.
Other issues can be identified by an audible alarm emitted by the failing device. When APC battery backup units have a problem with the battery, they make a loud beep. This is generally more effective than an amber light since you can hear it, and it can be quite obnoxious. The problem with trying to diagnose this issue remotely, as you have to hunt for the device making the noise, logging into each, one by one until you find it. Obviously, you can’t hear the alert when you’re remote, so identifying the alarming hardware can be difficult.
Sometimes the only indicator of hardware failing has nothing to do with built in alerts or notifications. Equipment can be impacted by certain factors that do not initiate typical failure alerts. Factors like temperature can make servers function poorly. Troubleshooting poor server performance can be difficult to do on site, let alone remotely. If I were troubleshooting remotely, and the issue is that the room the server is sitting in is 104°F, I may never discover the problem. If I were on site, I’d know immediately.
While this point is not exclusively specific to I.T., it still holds true: So much is lost when communicating remotely.
Email, text messages, chat applets, and instant messages are all powerful, useful tools. Being able to send large amounts of information at the drop of a hat has countless advantages. However, it removes more than just physical presence. Body language is completely lost. Tone of voice, facial expressions, visual cues, all gone.
Communication needs to be more than just the delivery of data, and not everyone is adept at conveying their thoughts completely via text. Every successful relationship has a solid basis in communication. It’s far too easy to misread someone’s thoughts or intentions when all they’ve done is send a short text. Phone calls are a step in the right direction, but speaking face to face gives the best chance to communicate your thoughts efficiently.
Remote support is arguably one of the most potent tools in an I.T. specialist’s arsenal, in this world of efficiency and instant gratification. It’s easier on the tech, and quicker for the end user. While the convenience of remote support is undeniable, it can never be as comprehensive a method of support as having someone available on site to put hands on your hardware, and trained eyes on your infrastructure.
So the next time we ask you if you’d like something addressed on site rather than remotely, consider the issue you are having, and how long it’s been since the last time we were out at your location. Can it wait until we can send a technician on site? Are there any other minor issues that an on-site visit would fix? Waiting an extra may prove to be well worth it in the long run.