Standardisation in Information Technology

Whilst working in Information Technology I have come across some brilliant standards, all of which contributed to a system which is easier to support and easier for the end user to work with.

Why standardise?

Standards provide a win-win solution for the IT support staff and its end users. It allows for streamlined support, and continuity between different systems. The downside is if something goes wrong with the standard equipment or software it can affect a larger number of users, this puts a larger stress on getting it right the first time.

Equipment

Standard equipment is the first thing the users notice, this involves desktops, laptops and peripherals.

For more businesses these days prefabricated computer systems offer a cost affective way to standardise. Some big name systems are HP, Acer and Dell.

When selecting a standard set of equipment you will need to take into account the business requirements, budget and expected life span. Some addition factors might be warranty, level of support, operating system compatibility, hardware expansions (RAM, additional video card, internal speaker).

Networking

Areas which can be standardised include WAN line provider, network cable colours, networking equipment (switches, routers, wireless access points).

Networking equipment is generally installed for the long haul, therefore the selection needs to be expandable with the ability to cater for a generous increase of bandwidth.

Software environment

The software environment is commonly called the ‘Standard Computing Enviroment’ or ‘Standard Operating Enviroment’. It includes the operating system, additional programs, configuration and updates.

A typical standard might be,

  • Microsoft Windows XP
  • Microsoft Office 2007
  • Additional software packages installed – Java, QuickTime, Flash plug-in etc.

When developing a standard ‘image’ it is recommended that the system environment variables be utilised to store the image version and release date. This can be used for releasing updates for specific image builds or even getting an idea of how old the computers software is.

Logon Script

You can do pretty much anything with scripting, but in the end a clean cut logon script will always be easier to support – therefore try to minimize what the logon script is used for. Connecting to network printers and network drives would be the bare minimum which it needs to do.

A suitable solution would be to use a single VBS script which is ran by all users on logon, this could be set by group policy or the active directory user account.

The VBS file could contain the specifics of which users (or groups) receive each network resource, or it could reference an external file with the information. The external file has the obvious advantage of being easy to update and maintain, leaving the script to be read-only.

If there are other requirements, like installing software or updates it is recommended you utilise group policy.

Printers

Printers should be shared from a single print server for each work site.

A standard naming convention should also be utilised, and each printer should be clearly labeled with the name used.

A suitable naming convention might be-

  • Include the business unit or business initials
  • Include the printer brand and model
  • Include if it is a single sided or double sided

This translates into MBOX-HP2400-S1

This name allows for everyone to easily identify which printer the queue belongs to, and if it is configured for single or double sided printing. If the printer also had a double sided queue it would be called MBOX-HP2400-D1.

The queue share and the printers name needs to be the same, this makes it easier to identify the printer when accessing it from the print window.

User names

A suitable standard for user names might be firstname.lastname. For a staff member called Joe Smith, his user account might be joe.smith.

There is less importantance placed on having a secure naming convention, this allows for more importantance to be placed on the password security.

Network Drives

A typical network drive standard involves two key drives, an H and an O.

The H drive is used for private or confidential information which can only be accessed by the one user. This drive is known as the ‘home drive’, is set in the active directory user configuration and can store user specific data like email archive files (PST’s) or redirected profile folders (Internet Explorer Favourites etc).

This drive should be titled as username$ for example, Joe Smith has the user name of joe.smith – his H drive would be shared as joe.smith$ . By using a dollar ($) sign in the share we are making it hidden, giving the users the privacy of not having their names listed as shares on a server.

The O drive is the shared office drive which everyone in the business unit or business can access. This drive is issued through the logon script and can be called something like MBOX-OFFICE to make it clear which area is responsible for the data.