Admin know-how sharpens developer's apps -- and vice versa

Performing his company's IT administration duties gives Steven Rieger a leg up when he carries out his other task: development.

Many people wear two hats at work. But few people sport the two hats that IS manager Steven Rieger does. A certified developer and a certified administrator, Rieger is both lead developer and chief IT administrator at his company.

That company is PSC Group, LLC, an IT consulting firm headquartered in Schaumburg, IL, that offers a CRM framework, called enTouch.crm, for mid-market enterprises. The framework is available in versions for Lotus Notes, IBM Workplace Services Express (WSE) and Linux.

As an administrator, Rieger runs PSC's internal systems, administering all the servers and laptops while managing inventory. He shares development duties with another PSC employee but he writes all the code, working primarily in Notes/Domino 6 environment but in 7.0 as well. After he does the development, he puts the application on PSC's AS/400 test server (PSC also has a few Windows development servers), and, if everything works, replicates the template changes into production.

Many companies pigeonhole employees by function; PSC is not one of those firms. "They specifically came looking for me eight years ago, because of my dual abilities," Rieger says. "PSC encourages that kind of crossover. I'm still more of a developer, but I love administration, and knowing all about it. It makes it so much easer to resolve problems."

Rieger's philosophy is that to be a solid developer in a large systems environment, one has to be an administrator as well. "For instance, if you did't understand replication, you could not architect a robust application," he notes, then gives another example. "Understanding the admin side can help you in developing server-based agents, because you need to understand that an agent will only run so many minutes."

If you didn't understand replication, you could not architect a robust application.  
Steven Rieger
Manager Information SystemsPSC Group LLC

Rieger recalls a sales call last year that demonstrated the value of performing both functions. A corporate client comprised of multiple companies (each with its own Domino server) wanted the ability to view all the companies' information at headquarters, but without allowing all the individual companies to see the information as well. The client thought it would need multiple installations of the application, and could not understand how to handle replication schemes between the Domino servers.

Giving the corporate office what it wanted "required pretty good knowledge of setting up cross certificates at the appropriate level, so that the servers could replicate and the users could see specific data," Rieger says. "But since servers only replicate one way, it was necessary to understand replication schemes and security schemes from the administration side. And from the developer side, it was necessary to understand how to develop the application with the appropriate security fields."

Because the corporation's full-time Notes person didn't have enough knowledge of Notes security to sway the CIO, the CIO wouldn't back the proposal. But Rieger was able to show the CIO the big picture. "I knew that Domino could do it, and my admin/developer background let me paint a simple-to-understand picture for someone at his level. I couldn't have done that if I were just a developer or an administrator. I needed to be both."

Handling both duties

How does one manage to handle development and admin duties? "It's very difficult," admits Rieger. "Fortunately, we're not a big shop and our IT environment is not horribly complex." PSC has 100 full-time employees spread across four states who are mostly consultants, and the company has half a dozen Domino servers – the bulk of them 6.5.3 with one 7.0 production (Gold) server -- running WebSphere, WebSphere Portal, QuickPlace, Sametime, LDAP and WebEx Web conferencing applications.

"All in all, it's pretty straightforward, and most of it runs reasonably well, so I'm not spending a ton of time doing administration," Rieger says. The task that takes up the bulk of his time is configuring laptops for new users, "since there's no way to automate the configuration of Notes," he says.

"But once it's set up correctly in Windows environments, Domino runs itself pretty well. It's rare that I have downtime due to unknown things. If I get a corrupt document and it crashes my SMTP server, I find that quickly. If the HTTP stack goes down, it's quick to diagnose and fix. I don't spend my days pouring over logs. We write good applications, and the servers we're running on are decent boxes. Not a whole lot of time is being spent on Notes administration."

It's a good thing that PSC's Domino infrastructure does run itself so well, because if the company's Web server crashed, there would likely be an outcry from the Lotus community would notice. That's because the blogs of IBM Lotus Software stalwarts Ed Brill and Alan Lepofsky are hosted on PSC servers. "People get testy if those sites are down," says Rieger. "If I ever have to restart, the phone calls start coming in immediately."

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