PaperCut is used in over 100 countries. As a result, we get to speak to System Administrators from all over the world, in all sorts of different organisations. Every site is unique, and it seems like everyone has great IT/Computer/Software stories (war stories) to tell. This post is the first in what we hope will be a series of interesting customer interviews.
Our first interview is with Chris Hill, from Colchester Royal Grammar School in the UK! Chris uses PaperCut in his school to control student and staff printing.
PaperCut: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Chris: My name is Chris Hill and I’ve been ICT Technician/Senior ICT Technician/Systems Manager at Colchester Royal Grammar School since the end of 2001 - although since it is my old school technically I have been ‘attending’ for much longer than that, since September 1994!
My job in the school is to keep the computer network and other related devices up-and-running and up-to-date - we have about 490 computers in the school at the moment, ranging from suites of PCs in classrooms to teacher’s desktops, teacher’s laptops, and also PCs for admin and senior leadership staff. I have two guys who work with me, Dave Ratcliffe and John-Kenneth Habbershaw, and it’s our job to make sure everything stays running, and to develop the system and generally troubleshoot ‘anything that has a plug on it’! :)
We’re mostly a Windows shop, running XP on the client (soon to be upgraded to Windows 7), and Server 2003 R2/2008 R2 on the backend - although a few iPhones and iPads are starting to creep in at the edges of the network as well! We run with mostly Dell kit for desktops/laptops/servers, HP ProCurve for network switches, and a mixture of HP and Ricoh on the printing side of things. The school doesn’t always jump on technological bandwagons as that’s not our way, but once technology has proved itself we like to deploy it wherever we can – so every classroom has a data projector and a fixed desktop computer, and many of them have SMART interactive whiteboards as well for use in everyday teaching.
Outside of work I am heavily involved on my local church, Greenstead Evangelical Free Church, doing children’s work on Thursday evenings and a bit of lay preaching as well. I also like to spend time with friends from church during my free time, watching DVDs and films and just generally chilling out.
PaperCut: Which parts of PaperCut do you use the most?
Chris: We use PaperCut to manage all of the school’s printing devices, from inkjet printers attached to individual PCs, through network laser printers right up to large MFD copiers, which we use PaperCut MF to manage so that every piece of paper that gets printed / copied / scanned gets monitored in some way and charged when necessary. The main parts of the software that we use is the interface for managing student printing credit - most days at least one student will run out of credit and come and ask us some more, at which point we usually just fire up the interface and assign some as necessary.
When we get tired of doing this we use the ’top-up card’ feature a lot, to give staff a way of providing students with extra ‘free’ printing credit without having to pester the technical staff to add it on manually. This is a great benefit to teaching staff as well as to us, as it gives them the flexibility to hand out extra credit without having to ‘ring up IT’, as well as allowing us to get on with our jobs without too many interruptions! :)
The other feature we have recently started using a lot is the ability to integrate our MFD copiers with PaperCut MF, which has also saved a lot of time. Whereas before we used to use the built-in ‘departmental code’ system on the copiers to track copy usage and then collate data from each copier in a large spreadsheet for accounting, we now use PaperCut MF on each copier to allow staff to log in with their usual Windows username & password (or an individual PIN number for quicker access), and then select a departmental account to assign the job to, which brings all of the data into the existing PaperCut system without any manual collation at all. This also means we only have to maintain one user database, and lets us track copier usage on a per-user basis, making it much easier to find out if one specific member of a department is responsible for ‘blowing the budget’, or if it’s all of them!
PaperCut: Everyone has their own system administration related horror story. What’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Chris: The story that I remember the best was not so much a horror story, but definitely one that went down into school folklore at the time. Those who have been in system administration for a few years will probably remember the summer of 2003 – when first the Blaster and then Nachi worms hit the Internet using an old Microsoft RPC vulnerability, which ended up with Microsoft releasing Windows XP SP2 with the firewall switched on by default to prevent such worms from spreading so fast in the future. I first heard about the worm while I was on holiday, and since I had already caught the ‘patch your systems’ bug many years before, I was fairly confident that our network was secure. But lo and behold, I returned from holiday to discover a fax from our local County Council’s broadband department, stating that since many schools across the broadband network had not been patching properly and hence were infected, they had shut down the entire network until people had removed the virus from their systems, and requiring everyone to send faxed confirmation that they had installed the relevant Microsoft patch and run a virus scanner on each of their computers, before the connection would be restored.
I already knew that our ‘managed’ computers had the relevant patch installed, and we had McAfee VirusScan deployed everywhere as well, so I sent the fax straight back and got our connection restored. However I was aware that not all of the devices connected to our network were ‘managed’ by us, especially those owned by our boarders, so I had to send out strict instructions to all the users on the network that no computer should be reconnected without it having the patch installed and being scanned for viruses – otherwise the worm would make its way onto the network again, which would lead to our Internet connection being cut off, perhaps for longer this time.
On the first day back all seemed to be going well – then during lunchtime I happened to be looking at the network cabinet containing our core switch, and noticed that one of the fibre optic transceivers connecting the rest of the school to the core was going crazy - something was broadcasting all over the network. I fired up tcpdump on our Linux box and saw to my dismay a series of ICMP Ping requests to random addresses – the signature of the Nachi worm. At this point the students in the room knew something was wrong, but I didn’t have time to explain – if our Broadband provider saw the traffic, they would almost certainly cut us off. I decided to disconnect the offending transceiver from the network, and then headed off to the source – with strict instructions to one of the student technicians to only reconnect the transceiver when I told him to.
Heading over to the building where the problem lay, I checked out the lights on the switch (which were unmanaged at the time), and managed to trace the problem back to a teacher’s laptop which they had brought in from home. Once this was disconnected, the flashing lights stopped, and I could breathe again.
After the fact the students told me that when the lights started flashing they had no idea what was going on – just that I suddenly ‘went into overdrive’ and started typing away madly. From my point of view I was just doing what seemed best – but it went down in history as ‘the time when Chris knew there was something wrong with the network by looking at the flashing lights’ … well I guess there are worse things to be remembered for! :)
Thanks to to Chris and the team for taking the time to tell us their PaperCut story!
We’d love to hear from more PaperCut System Administrators from around the globe. If you’ve got an interesting print management or system administration story to tell, or just want to show the world your workplace then we’d love to hear from you! Just email us here in support and we’ll get in contact with you as soon as we can.