All eyes on the small business

Customers want better performance from computer networks and better customer service from their IT professionals. The IT professional wants to provide profitable and needed services to customers. There are many ways to better (and profitably) serve customers with the remote management and monitoring

capabilities in Small Business Server 2000. This section discusses potential daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual activities that are intended to improve customer satisfaction and increase service revenues.

Weekly activities

Each week, it is reasonable to assume that you will perform computer network-related tasks for the customer.

These will typically include such tasks as investigating a failed tape backup (for example, corruption of tape media), adding a new user, troubleshooting a printer problem, or providing end-user support such as how to use a Smart Tag in Office XP. Additional tasks might include downloading and applying service packs, updating virus definition files, and responding to security bulletins.

You can accomplish much of this work by establishing a Terminal Services connection and using the Small Business Server Administrator Console.

The ability to work remotely minimizes business disruptions and saves time for both you and the customer. This type of work can be billed in different ways. Some IT professionals have a service agreement with customers that covers the completion of these tasks; others bill on an hourly basis.

Monthly activities

A common opportunity for the IT professional is a monthly service agreement. In this scenario, in addition to possibly performing the work outlined in the last two sections, you might perform some tasks remotely and also visit a customer site each month. Monthly activities typically include server-side and customer computer-side tasks such as the following:

  • Perform a test tape restore to verify the fitness of data backups.
  • Perform a test restart of the server to assure its ability to recover from an unexpected restart condition.
  • Perform tests on the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to ensure the health of the backup battery.
  • Apply the latest service packs, hot fixes, and patches to the server and client computers. Note that this can be accomplished in part by running the Windows Update and Office Update service.
  • Defragment disks.
  • Recover disk space by deleting unneeded files.
  • Complete customer requests, such as installing a new business application.
  • Submit to the customer month-by-month reports of such measurements as changes in disk space and average free RAM.

You could also perform this work on a billable hour basis rather than as part of a maintenance agreement. Experience has shown that the above tasks, performed at an average Small Business Server 2000 customer site (for example, a site with 15 to 25 client computers), take at least four hours to complete. Of course, larger sites will require more time.

Quarterly activities

Some maintenance tasks, such as logging system information with Performance Monitor, are better suited to being performed quarterly.

Over time, performance logs should be charted and compared side-by-side to observe long-term Small Business Server 2000 system improvements or declines.

Consider setting the logging time interval to 15 minutes in order to limit the size of the log yet capture valuable information. Engage in logging activity for at least a 24-hour period.

The information in the Performance Monitor logs, looked at in a single time period, displays a snapshot for a point in time. Thus, you can create a baseline history file, then follow up with periodic updates so that you can track activity over time and detect trends. For example, one common use of Performance Monitoring logs is to be able to forecast the need for more network hardware resources several months in advance.

It is recommended that you log the following objects in Performance Monitor in a small business environment:

  • Logical disk. Provides logical views of disk space, including disk partitions.
  • Memory. Enables you to analyze performance matters relating to real memory. Includes both primary (RAM) and virtual (paging file) memory.
  • Physical disk. Includes secondary storage, such as hard disks. Physical disk measurements can be unreliable when you have a hardware-based RAID array.
  • Process. Tracks the ability to monitor the behavior of a software application or process. Examples include monitoring memory usage by the Exchange Information Store (Store.exe) and the Local Security Authority (Lsass.exe).
  • Processor. Provides measurements relating to the central processing unit (CPU).

Annual activities

Based on the results of the maintenance, remote management, and monitoring activities you perform during the year, the customer can confidently be advised about recommended upgrades. Because you know the network intimately, you can alert the customer ahead of time of the need to implement a faster network hub (for example, to upgrade from 10Mbps to 100Mbps) or to add more RAM to the server computer.

Don’t overlook the opportunity to conduct an annual system training session at the customer site. It’s widely accepted that a well-trained and competent customer site will experience better network performance. For example, the customer’s employees would be able to avoid making common mistakes such as opening an e-mail virus attachment that creates a broadcast storm on the network.

Work that falls into the annual category is typically billed on a per-hour basis plus materials. The nature of this work varies by customer site and is typically bid on a case-by-case basis. Experience has shown that in the course of a year, an average Small Business Server 2000 customer site will upgrade part or all of the server computer and replace several client computers.

Using health monitor

A popular performance-monitoring tool, Health Monitor 2.1 is directly accessible from the Small Business Server 2000 Administrator Console. Health Monitor is a service in Small Business Server 2000 that enables you to monitor performance counters proactively and to set thresholds (a threshold is a measurement setting in a performance monitor) that will alert you when they are exceeded.

To run the Health Monitor tour:

Click Start, and then click Small Business Server Administrator Console.

Click Health Monitor, and then click the Tips — Monitoring Server Health tab.

Click Learn.

Baseline health monitor settings

You should create a baseline set of Health Monitor alerts at the customer site. Suggested Health Monitor performance counters are listed below, followed by a section on how to create the performance monitors.

Disk. At customer sites, implement performance monitors that alert you when free disk space is down to 20 per cent, 10 per cent, and 5 per cent. At each point, you would advise the customer to consider purchasing additional hard disks. For example, you might provide a gentle reminder at 20 and 10 per cent free disk space and a more serious purchase recommendation when only 5 per cent free disk space remains.

Part three will focus on Web services and configuration of remote management and monitoring.

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