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1. Basic Principals
2. Change Control
3. Server Environments
4. Network and Wiring
5. Network Security
6. Software Purchases
7. Documenting IT

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Information Technology Digest:
Stable Computer Environments
by Wolfgang Blauen, CISSP
2. Change Control (continued)

The fact that you want to test before you install in production does not mean that you have to have to have an elaborate test infrastructure. You probably want to maintain a spare computer for on the fly replacement due to critical hardware problems anyway. Whatís important is that when you test software upgrades you adhere to some basic principals:

1.       Donít apply the change to critical live systems. You want to make a backup copy of any data that will be or might be touched by the upgrade and test the change on the backup copy first.

2.       Always back up your production data and make sure the backup is usable before applying changes to know you can back out the change if things donít work despite prior testing.

3.       Work out the installation procedure in a non-production environment before touching production equipment. This doesnít have to be a separate network. Most of the time a logically separate installation on the production hardware can do the trick.

4.       Write out the test procedures and the expected results and keep notes during the tests.

5.       Never run tests on production hardware during peek production times. Never apply changes to central or critical production systems during regular production hours.

6.       Schedule down-time for the upgrade to allow sufficient time to solve potential problems.

7.       Have a back-out plan to reverse the change and restore the pre-change functionality if necessary.

You also want to set (limit) the scope of changes to an achievable target. For example, when you apply multiple changes to a production environment, you want to apply a single change to all computers before moving on to the next one. This prevents you from running out of time while making several changes to each computer at once and ending up with only a subset of the computers updated. You can terminate the upgrade at a specific point and continue during the next down-time window where you left off. Meanwhile youíve ensured continuous usability of the environment.

In short: Have a plan! You want to know

  • What to do

  • What order to do it in

  • What the impact is

  • Where you can stop the procedure

  • How you can reverse what you have done if you need to.

Change control will be the most valuable tool for the System Administrator to guarantee success. However, it can only work if you are willing to trade out the freedom to let users have individual hardware and software configurations.

(read on ...) 

Copyright (c) 2008 by In Scope-Solutions, Inc. 

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