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Responsibility and Honesty- watch your back!

© December 2008 Anthony Lawrence

I went to one of my Boston customers today to add a hard drive to their old SCO box. When I got there, the office manager approached me about a problem with their Exchange Server.

A little background here. The owner of the company has recently been battling serious cancer. Also, I had a Kerio server here, but against my advice, they hired a Windows consultant who switched them to Exchange. The consultant later turned out to be incompetent, so they are firing him. I say "are firing" because he's been difficult about giving up passwords and has also locked them into a contract for system backups.. so he's still somewhat involved.

I didn't like the Exchange transplant. Not because of lost income - the Kerio is worth about $72.00 (yes - seventy two DOLLARS) in yearly profit to me - but because Exchange is a horrible, clunky, insecure and EXPENSIVE product. I made my objections known, but they went with the new guys advice. OK. I'll take care of the Unix stuff and leave that alone.

The owner is doing fairly well, and still working, but has understandably turned over a lot of daily responsibility to some young employees. I don't think those young'uns like me - I'm the grumpy old guy who thinks Windows is crap - but we've had no real issues until today.

Today the manager told me that their Exchange Server had been hacked over the weekend. Actually, she didn't tell me that: she told me that there had been a "problem" and asked if I could make sure it was "fixed" as she didn't trust the consultant they are firing. She then handed me email which showed me that the SBS server and Exchange had been hacked.

Interestingly, the soon to be erstwhile consultant blamed this on port 25 being open to the server.. a truly brilliant response which would have caused me to snort coffee out my nose had I been drinking when I read that. Basically, it was anyone's fault but his and worse, he never really determined the source of the hack.

I explained to the manager that is like coming home and finding your home burglarized but no broken windows or doors to indicate how the thief got in. Basically the consultant was saying that the thief is not here now, so everything is fine. It certainly is NOT! If we cannot determine the vector of the hack, the server has to be reinstalled from scratch, no if, ands or buts.

By the way, his "port 25" explanation is like saying you got robbed because you didn't unplug your telephone cord while you were out!

I explained all that to her but added that I wasn't going to touch the Exchange. If she wanted me to put the Kerio back, I'd be happy to. Helping someone with Exchange is like handing keys to a drunk, in my opinion. Friends don't help friends fix Exchange.

So I went to look at the Unix server. The first thing I noticed was that there was over 10 GB of free disk space. As I was there because they needed to copy a 2 GB directory, I wasn't sure what the problem was. I went to the Accounting Managers office. She's another young'un with no use for me. I explained what I saw.

"X" (name omitted to avoid a lawsuit) "says that there isn't enough room", she sulkily told me.

"Well", I said, "X is an idiot, which is why you are firing him. I don't really care what X said!"

"X is all we have right now and he says it needs more space." This was definitely defiant. I have a strong impression that this girl didn't want X fired..

I went back to the Office Manager and told her of the impasse. She went behind closed doors to huddle with the Accounting person and emerged with an email from X. This email indicated that the server had been out of space but that he had found the problem and cleaned it up.

Whoah, hold on a second. HE cleaned it up? In the first place, if X is doing the Unix service, what are they paying me for? More importantly, this bozo has already demonstrated his incompetence with Windows, why the hell is he working on Unix??

Well, because the young'uns didn't want the old fossil involved, of course.

By now I'm pretty ticked off, but then the Office Manager provided dessert. She informed me that the owner (the woman battling cancer) was on her way in and that I should not tell her about the Exchange having been hacked.

I must have looked more than astonished. "I think that's rather an important thing", I said. "She needs to know about it."

"I know, but not today. I'll tell her later, I promise."

I didn't like that but I started thinking, well, maybe she's feeling really sick right now and this girl is just protecting her. Maybe she's right..

So I told her that was OK, but that I'd have to leave because I could not lie to the owner's face. I've known this woman for twenty years and although we don't mix socially, I consider her a friend; I just can't do it. So I left.

But while walking to my train, I had second thoughts. She had never told me that she was stepping down because of her illness. In fact, the last time I talked to her she seemed very chipper and up-beat. I decided to call her. I did, and got her voice mail. I left a babbling message explaining the situation, apologizing if she was in fact too sick to be bothered with this stuff.

Fifteen minutes later she called me back, incredulous that her employees were withholding this news and equally incredulous that they had let X touch the Unix server. This was not a happy conversation.

She said "I have cancer. I'm not sick."

So why would they want this problem withheld? To avoid her demanding accountability and resolution, I suspect. She agreed.

We're going to meet in two weeks to discuss things. I'm really not sure what to do. On the one hand I feel a deep responsibility to a long time customer. On the other hand, I feel that I have an adversarial relationship with at least two of her employees. They have little respect for my opinions and have made it fairly plain that they want me gone. I don't mind losing the customer - it's small money and I don't even like going to Boston, but I don't want to see someone I think of as a friend get hurt.

After arranging the meeting, my parting words were "Merry Xmas and watch your back".

She said that she would.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence

Tue Dec 23 20:00:50 2008: 4962   TonyLawrence

So what would you do if you were in this pickle barrel?

Tue Dec 23 20:40:53 2008: 4963   ScottCarpenter

I think you're in a good position to give your friend -- the owner -- your honest opinion. I think you did the right thing. From here it's the owner's job to decide what to do about her business.

As you said, you don't need the business, so you don't need to be concerned as much about the disagreeable employees and their ability to run you out of there. (Obviously it's still a frustration to put up with that kind behavior.) If the owner values your services, she may be willing to make changes to make it easier for you to continue helping out. If not, then maybe it's time to move on.

Tue Dec 23 20:45:27 2008: 4964   JamesFrancis

I think I would start by just stating the facts as I know them while removing any level of emotion. After stating the facts, I would have a list of recommendations ready to go for them. The decision to accept the recommendations is entirely theirs of course. It might also help to have some 3rd party documentation ready to explain certain aspects to the non-technical folks. For example, a small doc explaining how email works (i.e. what port 25 is used for) might help.

Tue Dec 23 20:50:46 2008: 4965   TonyLawrence

The owner WANTS me to stay on. I think I'm going to get sabotaged..

Tue Dec 23 21:05:02 2008: 4966   NickBarron

Wow. Sitting here lights down.. drinking a lovely cider and eating some chocolates I won in a clients raffle with Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms in the background. You did the correct thing in my opinion speaking to the owner, friend, client, passer-by in the street. She is the owner and therefore your client. In my opinion you therefore answer to her. This is ignoring the obvious mutual respect and understanding you both have developed. Well Tony not all of us young'un padawans are as disrespectful and naive, it must be a little disconcerting and annoying if you know that they do not respect and/or not interested in your opinion. However do you pay attention to a fool? If they knew what they were doing, you would not be there. I would of done what you have and keep the owner fully updated on the situation. Office politics is always a waste of time. The "tech consultant" who installed the Exchange server sounds like a interesting clown, though likely highly dangerous. Possibly a friend of someone in the company if you are finding support for him? Interested to hear more opinions and evidence on Exchange though, my understanding was that as a product it was possibly one of the best Microsoft make. Though that in itself, sets the bar quiet low...

Tue Dec 23 21:08:13 2008: 4967   NickBarron

I took it as green that the owner wanted you to continue. If you think you are going to be sabotaged then that is a different matter, again I would inform the owner and discuss it with her.

Are we stepping away from Google Friend Connect for posts btw?

Tue Dec 23 21:12:42 2008: 4968   TonyLawrence

No, GFC is still here - you can use either one.

Tue Dec 23 21:37:19 2008: 4970   NickBarron

Good post, sometimes this is true. To be judged on a case by case basis I suppose. Glad you have not taken offence to their opinion though :) Something I have been thinking about since your post "Are we there yet?" Youth is wasted on the young.

Tue Dec 23 21:52:57 2008: 4971   TonyLawrence

No, I really do understand why they think the old guy is too conservative, too stuck in his ways..

I'm definitely NOT, but I understand.

For example, that new guy instituted off-site network backup. That's fine as an additional backup method, but it does not replace the need for physical media that you can put in a safe or take home.

I told them that, but they probably think I'm being an old fool..

Tue Dec 23 22:05:30 2008: 4972   NickBarron

Saying that we instigate encrypted WAN backups often *whistles*

I am not sure my point came across very well, It is clear you are definitely not a fossil. Mine was more of an apology for what I see so often. Which is the usual young people thinking they know better.

Your response has been very good though and even understanding :)

Though on the other hand I see the other side of the fence. That young upstart what does he know... We cannot promote him to be in charge of the EMEA at that age...

Tue Dec 23 22:17:26 2008: 4973   TonyLawrence

WAN backups are great (assuming they ca be done in the time allotted, of course). I set servers to use LAN and WAN backups often. It's very convenient for quick restores.

But again: it's no replacement for physical removable media. Without that, you really don't have a backup. You have something that you MIGHT be able to restore - if the network is up, if the other server is up, if it can be done quickly enough...

I believe in multiple forms of backup. There is no such thing as having too much..

Tue Dec 23 22:39:35 2008: 4974   NickBarron

Multiple backups are always vital.

I normally use a combination of LAN and WAN to accomplish what is needed. Physical backup media has pretty much disappeared in my line of work. Whether this is for the better or not, the jury is still out. We backup to a data centre with a replica RAID and internally through the LAN. Though this does not help if the network goes down and the WAN data becomes corrupted.

So Exchange your not a fan?

Tue Dec 23 22:55:00 2008: 4975   TonyLawrence

If you are big enough to control all that and replicate it enough that fires, earthquakes etc. are of no concern, that's fine. Most small business MUST have physical media to meet those concerns.

I've been doing email since way back when. I took Exchange as one of my electives for my MCSE. It's a product designed for Ford Motor Company or GM.. totally unsuitable for a small business and of course crammed with the usual problems of all Microsoft software (design and implementation by committee)

Tue Dec 23 23:00:54 2008: 4976   NickBarron

Primarily the company I work for tend to SME businesses. We use our infrastructure and accommodate them into it. Backup, Client build (with some tweaks) etc

If I was working for a medium business I would perhaps consider a ATO drive, would you really say this is essential?

I am very interested in this as I have no direct experience with it, so Exchange was originally developed for a specific company?

Tue Dec 23 23:36:18 2008: 4977   TonyLawrence

I think physical media is essential to small companies. How can they guarantee that they can reach Internet backups when they need to? If they are backing up to their own LAN, that is no protection from local disaster - physical media, taken off-site or in safes, is.

No Exchange wasn't developed for one company. But it has features for giant companies - far too many features and yet plainly missing some of the most important to small businesses.

Sat Dec 27 18:02:54 2008: 4985   NickBarron

A local LAN backup is definitely not sufficient, however with a WAN backup to a secure location I feel comfortable.

I have Notes/Domino experience, so could I liken Exchange to that sort of area?

Sat Dec 27 19:24:24 2008: 4988   TonyLawrence

Yes, Exchange and Notes, both very large and bulky.

WAN backup is fairly good if you control the WAN. But even then, natural disaster can prevent access so unless you are big enough for very redundant WAN access, I don't consider it sufficient.

Tue Jul 21 10:55:35 2009: 6656   TonyLawrence

This morning's (link) post is this very same customer. New consultant, same customer. They aren't doing well with consultants...


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