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Microsoft Windows Infrastructure Audit Service


Background

The launch of Windows NT from Microsoft in the early nineties heralded the arrival of the first user-friendly operating system. The theory was that the system was easy to configure “out of the box” and therefore required little or no technical expertise to install or support. The reality was that multi-user operating systems, by their very nature, are complex systems requiring a clear understanding of the choices selected during initial deployment. 

 

Microsoft soon recognised this aspect and created a skilled tier of system centres with the required levels of technical expertise. While acquiring and maintaining necessary accreditations for each centre posed a significant overhead, the quality of the systems deployed ensured that the operating system scaled to tackle the needs of larger operations. The Windows NT system now supplies the operating environment of the vast majority of companies worldwide. 

 

In the interim period, Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in enhancing the technical capabilities of the operating software. This is to ensure that the platform becomes the system of choice for all companies in the Internet age. The system is now capable of handling the needs of companies of all sizes from the small company up to the larger corporations. In short, in scaling from a micro to a mainframe across a wide variety of operations, the Windows operating environment has become the de-facto worldwide operating system of choice. However, the sheer sophistication and complexity of the new releases of the product have posed major challenges both in terms of deployment and maintenance of the system. 

 

In many organisations, the Windows server environment was deployed between three and seven years ago depending on whether the company was an early adopter or not. In the interim period, the requirements of such companies may have changed considerably from the original implementation scope. Typical changes include the addition of further business applications, increased user population, the provision of remote access rights, thin client deployment, Internet access and e-commerce facilities. 

 

In many cases throughout this change process, the core operating environment may not have been re-engineered to take account of a more demanding scenario. Invariably, as with all systems whether manual or computerised, the disciplines deteriorate with age. However, in many cases, the complete business information of the organisation is dependent on the continued service provided by the network servers. Clients are therefore becoming aware that, in the information age, the future prosperity of the company may depend on the quality and reliability of its IT systems.

Requirement
Clients wishing to ensure the continuity of service by its server and workstation investment generated the requirement for an IT Infrastructure Audit service. This was driven by a number of factors such as increased downtime incidents, response time concerns, security breaches, virus infections and escalating levels of investment. These coupled with the increased complexity of the technology and the reduction in in-house IT skills made it difficult to assess what facilities were available and how well they were utilised.

 

The overall requirement was to have the complete system assessed by skilled systems engineers against current best practise in the industry. The idea was to have a stake in the ground on the current health of the IT infrastructure that delivered the vital business information of the organisation. 

 

The terms of reference for each audit are specific to the individual client. However, a typical brief would include the following elements:

 

  • Examine all of the current hardware server builds, define any potential configuration issues that may impact on performance and recommend appropriate remedial action.

  • Carry out an audit of the current operating system software domain, compare the software deployment techniques against current best practice and define any suggested refinements designed to improve system performance 

  • Assess the current levels of security in place within the internal system domain as well as the current security procedures relating to data back-up, virus protection and potential hacker attack and recommend appropriate suggested improvements

  • Examine the workstation build of at least five representative system users to assess the current level of workstation build and recommend any suggested refinements designed to increase user satisfaction.

  • Produce a written report of the findings of the audit outlining the key improvement recommendations together with a project plan and estimated costs.

The Audit Process
There are three stages involved in the process of carrying out an infrastructure audit i.e. agreement on the terms of reference, the audit process and the documentation of the findings. Once the terms of reference are agreed, the audit process normally involves a visit to the site or sites by the appointed technical consultant. Once there, the following checks are carried out:

  • Each server is visited and the build attributes of both the hardware and software noted. The event logs are scrutinised as well as the loading on each server, IP addresses used, service pack levels deployed, back up & verification procedures, licence setting, administrator procedures, virus protection and memory and disk utilisation.

  • The communication infrastructure is examined to detect traffic bottlenecks, external link utilisation and security procedures.

  • Where required, workstation builds are examined and security issues addressed together with user performance concerns. 

  • Once the audit is complete, the process of documenting its findings commences. This involves listing all of the attributes of each of the devices audited, a schematic diagram of the entire system and a series of recommendations on refining or correcting obvious shortcomings in the network. In addition, an estimate of the required investment to rectify any suggested refinements is usually included.

Summary
The requirement for a network audit service by Anglia Business Solutions has assisted a number of clients to maximise their investment in technology. In a world of increased complexity and rapid change, the service has enabled companies to define how well this vital asset is utilised. In addition, it has highlighted a number of serious concerns where performance and security issues could have had serious commercial implications. 

 

As many organisations strive for growth in the global marketplace, they are increasingly seeking to use computer-generated information to leverage competitive advantage. The audit service facilitates making better use of existing technology while providing a useful planning tool for future system enhancements. 

 

For further information on how to benefit from this service or for an example of a typical audit report contact Tony Rose on (01223) 873400.

 



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