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Doing IT at Home: Ticketing and Monitoring

Treating your home network more like a business network is often far easier than people realize and far more useful too.  There is a lot of utility is how businesses run their IT departments and it is often only oversight or social custom that keep us from doing more IT at home.

In this third installment of me “Doing IT at Home” series of articles, I’m going to look at ticketing and monitoring systems.  Home networks generally consist of end user workstations, that is desktops, laptops, tablets and the like.  Servers are a rarity although, if you are following with this series, perhaps they are common in your home.

Rarely are home networks monitored in any way.  This is a major differentiator between common home and business networks.  This is a great place to add functionality and value to your home network.  Monitoring does not have to be hard nor expensive.  You can almost certainly run your monitoring from some hardware device that you already have in your home such as an existing Linux, Solaris or FreeBSD virtual machine or a Windows desktop, as examples.  There are many free, business network monitoring solutions such as Spiceworks, Zenoss, Nagios and Zabbix.  Implementing one or more of these, or one of many others, in your home can be very beneficial and educational.

For most IT pros looking to expand their home solution set, Spiceworks is the most obvious choice.  Effectively everyone has Windows at home, even if only in desktop form.  And that is all that it takes to run Spiceworks, so Spiceworks is a great starting point for nearly everyone as a first monitoring platform at home, and as it is geared towards desktop and small business management it is very well suited for the types of systems and environments likely to be found in a home.

Spiceworks is especially valuable for a project such as this because it delivers both the monitoring and alerting component as well as a built in helpdesk component killing two birds with one stone and that is why I included both concepts together in one article.  They could easily be done separately and helpdesk functionality is easily found in an externally hosted service but in using Spiceworks you have an opportunity to put both on the home network as the goal is experience, not practicality.

Getting your home network monitoring in tip top shape is a great learning exercise.  Learning not only how the specific monitoring product works but also learning about networking, operating system specifics, network monitoring protocols (such as SNMP) and more.  Many IT pros find that a good monitoring package causes them to learn more about their internal DNS than they ever thought that they would need to know.

Using ticketing at home encourages and shows organization and is useful in presenting important concepts in IT management.  Having tickets at home can be very handy in maintaining change management for your home network, organizing tasks that need to be done or you plan to tackle in the future and is especially useful if you support a large family environment where you want family members to be able to submit and track their requests.  This gets even handier if you are doing this for an extended family network and you are supported more than just your own household.  This may sound a little silly to do for a home environment, but remember, the goal is to learn products and processes, not to be particularly productive for a home environment.

Like many good home IT projects, this is one that helps to add “life” to your network.  Too many projects result in unused systems that sit idle and quality as a project but serve no actual purpose once implemented.  Monitoring, alerting and ticketing are systems that will actually interact with your network and serve an ongoing purpose which makes them ideal for educational projects.  You’ll not only implement them but maintain them performing updates and possibly extending them with additional functionality.

A good home IT project will add value to your home as well as your portfolio of experience and, hopefully, will demonstrate end to end experience not only as an implementer of a system but as a maintainer and as an end user of that system – a well rounded level of experience often lacking in those who only implement or utilize systems in an enterprise environment.