Spiceworks Customization

Andrew Foster at Topland Communications reached me via Upwork looking to customize and fine tune a existing Spiceworks installation.

After a quick inspection, I decided to tackle the project by compacting the DB in first place. Spiceworks keeps a lot of logs regarding the system activity, which are located on C:\Program Files\Spiceworks\Log. In order to clean them, the first step is to stop Spiceworks service.

Logs are stored in two main locations:

  • C:\Program Files\Spiceworks\Log, for the Spiceworks service
  • C:\Program Files\Spiceworks\httpd\log\, where the Apache server keeps them

Once the logs are cleaned, I compacted the DB to increase the performance, and I started the service again.

Ticket rules were configured to auto assign support tickets, thus saving time to the support operators.

And the user portal was customized to match the company colors and logo.

Axis CCTV and Video Management System

A security company contacted me thorough Upwork, searching for support on a brand new installation of an Axis Camera Station System on a educational institution. This company, Coyote Cabling from New Mexico, US, was on charge of a 52 camera installation, with an option to add 32 existing cameras on a later stage.

After a research, they decided to use Axis S1148 servers, which really are re-branded Dell servers. The S1148 comes with a ready to use Windows Server 2012 OS, and with the Axis Camera Station preinstalled. This vendor supported hardware allowed to reduce licensing costs, because they are included on the server price, and avoid any incompatibilities

ISPConfig 3 in Digital Ocean Droplet

Client wanted to set up a ISPConfig 3 Control Panel onto a Digital Ocean droplet.

Digital Ocean works best for this kind of services, because they provision the public addresses directly on the server. The configuration is easier to build and mantain, thanks to the Digital Ocean integrated firewall.

ISPConfig allows to manage servers and hosting plans from a friendly GUI.

Dynamic DNS Server System

After a couple of successful jobs with my client Visual Link Internet LLC, they reached me to set up a service similar to dyndns.net. I had already developed another value added services for their customers, like web filtering and firewalling, so I found this project very interesting and fun to do.

Cool, but what is DNS ?

DNS stands for Domain Name Systems. Yep, domains like google.com.

It is based on a distributed database that takes some time to update globally. When DNS was first introduced, the database was small and could be easily maintained by hand. As the system grew this task became difficult for any one site to handle, and a new management structure was introduced to spread out the updates among many domain name registrars.

Due to the distributed nature of the DNS systems and its registrars, updates to the global DNS system may take hours to distribute. Thus DNS is only suitable for services that do not change their IP address very often, but not for servers being run with dynamic addresses, which are likely to change their IP address over very short periods of time.

Ok, but my ISP gives dynamic addresses, and I want to access services on my network. What can i do?

Dynamic DNS is a system that addresses the problem of rapid updates. The term is used in two ways, which, while technically similar, have very different purposes and user populations. The first is “standards-based DNS updates”, which uses an extension of the DNS protocol to ask for an update. The second is usually a web-based protocol, normally a single HTTP fetch with username and password which then updates some DNS records (by some unspecified method).

Many providers offer commercial or free Dynamic DNS service for this scenario. The automatic reconfiguration is generally implemented in the user’s router or computer, which runs software to update the DDNS service. The communication between the user’s equipment and the provider is not standardized, although a few standard web-based methods of updating have emerged over time.

Yeah, but those free services are now paid, and some have even disappeared

I know, I know. But this service can be built in-house. Using open source software, there are no fees, and the company domain name can be used to keep things professional.

This is what my client wanted, so I deployed a solution on a that allowed to offer added value services to customers, and provide easy remote access. Using a open source solution based on PHP (https://github.com/nicokaiser/Dyndns) and some custom Bash scripts I was able to deliver a stable system in a short amount of time.

The main techonologies I used are Apache 2 and PHP 7 for the HTTP requests and update system, and BIND9 for the DNS service.

The solution used the standard URL schema of DynDNS, so it is compatible with any device with support for it. Also, because most CPEs of the client’s network were MikroTik based, I also wrote a RouterOS script to call the update.

A new order of IT

There is a new order of IT. In the last years, a very disruptive element appeared in the field, with the name of IT as a Service (ITaaS). On its top there is a crystal-clear examination and understanding of business and technology needs, and at its bottom there is a foundation built by a massive set of virtualized resources.

Now, IT administrators can find a set of previously configured building blocks that can be combined and deployed very quickly. Using this technology, the IT departments can respond to the changing needs of the business with optimized yet highly standardized solutions.

Using the ITaaS model, most of the information technology solutions can be deployed when they are needed, at any time, paying only for what is used. It is a shift on operational and organizational procedures to run IT like a business and service provider.

This approach allows IT areas to be a strategic partner of the business.

This service model requires a platform or catalog comprising information about the users and the services each one consumes. It also should bring information about to which services a user is subscribed, and how the services use will be charged back to the respective business unit.

Once all the services are cataloged and published,

  • Can the business units act upon it?
  • It is just a static document or is it a dynamic tool?
  • The services can be directly requested from within the catalog?
  • Is it easy to use as any online store?

Most IT departments already have a set of tools manage and monitor their infrastructure. These tools often also keep track of cost, orders, helpdesk requests and many other functions within IT. Maybe there even is another service catalog in another division of the organization. All of these possibilities must be considered when selecting a service catalog tool.

  • Can the new catalog integrate with the existing tools?
  • Will it replace an existing tool?
  • Also, the process automation is already bundled into the platform, or the IT department will need to engineer it? It is scalable?
  • As any service to a business, the catalog tool carries a cost with it. When any updates of fixes become available, will the vendor charge for it? How is the licensing scheme calculated?

Answers to these and more questions will be needed before to know how much the new service catalog tool will really cost to the organization, and how to design a business case for its acquisition. Even when all these questions are answered, it takes time to retrain the staff and restructure the habitual policies and procedures.

In the traditional IT approach, everything is organized in a vertical form. There is a storage team, a networking team, system administration team and a DBA team. But in the ITasS world, the approach now is horizontal. There is a cloud services architecture team and most of the nfrastructure is virtualized and abstracted, so everybody in the IT team can work across different functions.

This newer horizontal organization usually produces highly skilled personnel for cloud computing implementations. These kind of employees is very rare and in high demand.

When the ITaaS model is deployed in a company or organization, sometimes there can be difficulties retaining the skilled cloud personnel. Sometimes the solution is found in service providers because the talent now is working for them.

The first step in the transformation is to understand what the organization is dealing with today. IT infrastructures are complex and usually have an unstructured approach to the delivery of IT services.

Mobile users, helpdesk request, are sometimes serviced ad-hoc, often without attention to business requirements. This leads to a complex mesh of user requirements and available services that can be difficult to untangle.

Also, does the IT team should try to preserve the actual user experience? Should it set a breakpoint where many elements are replaced with a brand new user experience?

In conclusion, IT teams should discover what services are delivering today, take control of these services, and put in place a delivery platform capable to deliver current services and future ones. Also, they must ensure that the platform can integrate with the largest desktop and application delivery approaches, simplifying the user experience, meeting all security and compliance requirements.

The service delivery should not just focus on application installation; it must consider other requirements so the services can be delivered fully. The solution should integrate the existing tools and processes, but also giving enough flexibility to enable any other services that your users need.

When the service delivery platform is ready to go, then the catalog of services should be distributed. All users should receive a services offer relevant to their necessities and their position in the organization. Also, in an optimal service delivery catalog, users should be able to select a service and, subject to previously established rules and approvals, the service should be delivered directly to the user, in an automated process,
fully provisioned and working.

A well designed and efficient service catalog can result in huge advantages for the IT department and for the business.

  • Better communication between the IT team and users, because of ease of administration and the service-oriented approach
  • Improved understanding of the business requirements, issues and challenges
  • Costs are allocated specific business units
  • Standards are established and consistency is achieved
  • IT operational costs are reduced by identification and elimination of non- necessary IT services
  • Computing resources are reallocated to critical business systems

It is important also that, whatever platform is used to provide the catalog, the solution should be adapted to the user base and to the services delivered. This information is critical for implementing chargeback, so a good services catalog platform should be capable to answer some questions.

  • What is the cost of delivering each service?
  • How much should be charged for each service?
  • Who consumes each service?
  • Who should be billed?
  • There are some services provided free of charge?

ITaaS doesn’t have to be an additional layer of complexity. IT departments and organizations should partner with a vendor who understands the process, so you can get solutions that help you to address each step of the way.

It can deliver huge benefits to you and your business.