Survival of the Adminless

09/30/2008 15:41

Just how dependent is your organization on your computer/network/systems administrator(s)? I like to think that all administrators are a Nietzschesque breed of super-humans who never get sick, hit by busses, retire, win the lottery, take other jobs, or quit. Unfortunately, statistics show that we are just as human as everyone else, albeit usually a little paler. Thus we are subject to the same luck, maladies and vacations as the rest of the population. So how would you deal with your administrator leaving, especially unexpectedly? Or worse, how would you deal with your administrator getting fired?

The administrator typically has a special place within an organization. Although not generally part of the executive management, they usually have full access to all of the organization’s systems, data, and programs. Generally, part of the administrator’s job is to maintain all of the systems that are used to access and utilize the organization’s information assets. This means that the administrator needs have full rights, permissions and access to every aspect of the organizations information, and by extension, the organizations business itself. In a very real sense, the administrator more than has the keys to the kingdom: they are charged with maintaining them.

So what happens when these gatekeepers are not available? Does the executive management have access to the information necessary to survive without the administrator in an emergency? Having a single point of failure is generally something to be avoided, to paraphrase the old adage about eggs and a basket. This should apply to our human resources as well as the other systems we depend on. Our cars should have spare tires, our houses should have flashlights, and our data should be backed up; so why not our vital personnel?

This doesn’t mean it’s necessary to clone your administrators, but it does mean that the executive management should at least know where the keys are stored, if not have copies of their own. At a minimum, they should be able to access to the following:

  • The administrative accounts/passwords
  • Backup and data encryption keys
  • Vendor and service accounts/passwords
  • Vendor and service provider account numbers
  • SLA (Service Level Agreements)
  • Emergency support contact information
  • Notes and other information needed to keep the systems running

Just keep in mind that these are the keys to the organization, and as such, must be secured. This means making sure that they remain confidential and only available to authorized persons. A sealed envelope in the company safe or deposit box, or a centralized, secured password safe software solution are good ways of storing this data and limiting access to it. Also remember, the data is useless if it’s not kept up to date with the regular cycle of password changes.


Topic: Survival of the Adminless

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