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Using NetPro at Shands HealthCare

Novell Cool Solutions: Trench
By Christine McDermott

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Posted: 7 Aug 2002
 

With 12,000 employees, 4,200 desktops, and a total of 7,000 user accounts spread over three remote hospitals in North Florida, the six-member Shands Healthcare IT team has its hands full. So when they heard about DS Expert at Novell's BrainShare Conference in 2000, they paid close attention.

"We had some strange things going on in our tree. We didn't know exactly what was causing them, but we knew we better find out."

Trey Johnson, Systems Analyst, Shands Healthcare

"We had some strange things going on in our tree," says Trey Johnson, systems analyst for the 12,000-employee hospital system. "We didn't know exactly what was causing them -- but we knew we better find out."

With DS Expert, they did. "DS Expert highlighted a number of critical issues immediately after we loaded it," Johnson says. DS Expert, the leading real-time monitoring and alerting solution for eDirectory, watches eDirectory 24x7 and uncovers issues before they become business-crippling problems. Through simple red and green lights, it enables administrators to keep constant tabs on the health of their directories, fixing problems fast when they do arise.

In Shands' case, problems included lingering backlinks, servers left out of the tree, and stuck obituaries. "The backlinks were backing up operations and left over references were causing some real replication problems," explains Lewis Drageset, systems analyst on the Shands IT team. "DS Expert shed light on all of these problems so we could address them before they caused any major outages."

Drageset and Johnson speculate that addressing the directory's health issues proactively enabled the team to avoid outages during Shands' NetWare 5 upgrade as well. "These are just the types of problems that make the system bomb during an upgrade," says Johnson. "But, because our tree was healthy when we conducted our upgrade, we had no issues. It was a smooth operation."

DS Expert, the duo reports, is the reason why a pending upgrade to eDirectory 8.62 is no great concern. "We're confident that this upgrade will go equally well because our directory is healthy to start with," says Drageset.

The peace of mind that comes from having a healthy directory is worth its weight in gold, according to the Shands IT duo. Even the eDirectory health checks they performed before the company bought DS Expert stopped short of delivering that. "We would hire Novell consulting to do our health checks on a regular basis, or we would do them ourselves, but it wasn't a good way to do business," says Drageset. "It was time consuming and expensive. We only had a few guys who had the knowledge and time to do it on any consistent basis, and there was no way of guaranteeing that problems wouldn't strike the day after the health check was performed."

Peace of mind also comes from knowing that the administrators with little eDirectory experience are in the position to make the right choices about the directory when they have to. "DS Expert makes it easy and convenient for everyone on our team to find problems," relates Johnson. "We can all "PC Anywhere" in to check status, and with red lights highlighting the problems, as well as where and what they are, even our Microsoft-trained administrators can assist with eDirectory administration."

According to Johnson, DS Expert pointed the administrators to a number of problems during the NetWare 5 upgrade, and they were able to fix them right away. "Without DS Expert, that wouldn't have been possible," he says.

Drilling Down with DS Analyzer

NetPro's DS Analyzer opened up new possibilities for the Shands team as well. The only troubleshooting and tuning solution for eDirectory, DS Analyzer gathers directory traffic and utilization data from across the entire network and displays it in a graphical format from every possible perspective, including servers, partitions, containers, clients, objects, and NDS eDirectory background processes. With DS Analyzer, administrators can view directory traffic reports over any period of time and drill down on the data until problem areas are fully exposed.

The Gainesville-based hospital system purchased DS Analyzer and DS Expert as a package, and the value of the two solutions together has been proven on a number of occasions.

"DS Expert alerted us to an issue with one of our master replica servers," says Drageset. "To pinpoint the source of the problem, we loaded DS Analyzer and started drilling down on the traffic. The graphs clearly indicated that three servers were beating the Hell out of the master replica server. DS Analyzer not only showed us the actual requests, but they highlighted exactly where they were coming from."

DS Analyzer's unique ability to showcase spikes and dips in traffic also came in handy when the hospital system had to significantly expand its Microsoft desktop system. "We needed to identify where traffic spikes hit so that we could better route traffic to accommodate the growing number of users. We needed to know how many requests were being generated by certain users and where and when the biggest spikes hit," notes Drageset. DS Analyzer provided the traffic data they needed and enabled the team to conduct on-going trending for long-term planning and design purposes.

It's clear that, years later, Drageset and Johnson are glad they were paying attention at BrainShare two years ago. But, ask Drageset and Johnson to nail the single most compelling value of the products and they answer definitively: "Peace of mind." Can't beat that.

For more information about DS Expert and DS Analyzer, please visit http://www.netpro.com/products


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