Top 5 IT Systems to Monitor in 2014

This big old globe of ours keeps rolling around the sun, and as we turn the corner into a brand new year, it’s a good time to take stock and plan for a better, more secure future. In the IT world, that means reviewing your systems and infrastructure to ensure everything is running effectively and that appropriate safety measures are in place. You might also have specific upgrade or replacement goals for the coming year, which need to be figured into your monitoring plans.

What follows is a list of the top 5 IT systems that you might want to pay special attention to in the coming year to ensure that your organization stays safe and compliant.

5. Microsoft Exchange Server

If you’re running Exchange Server on-premises, you’ve made a commitment to keeping this important system operating for your users, with all the attendant business and compliance complications that brings. No individual, and certainly no business, can afford to be without this vital communications channel for very long. Yet simple mistakes in applying updates or adding new users can have unexpected consequences that break features or crash the system.

Microsoft recently announced the discontinuation of Forefront Unified Access Gateway (UAG), which follows a year after the company similarly cancelled Forefront Threat Management Gateway (TMG). Because these products provide external security for Exchange Server, many organizations could be looking for new gateway protection in the coming year. Auditing and monitoring any changes to your Exchange infrastructure and tracking mailbox access for compliance should be high priorities for Exchange admins.

4. Virtualization

Most organizations use virtualization to some degree, and many have adopted this technology extensively to reduce hardware costs and increase IT efficiency. However, virtual systems can become complex the more they’re relied upon. Further, when different users and admins have a hand in the management of your virtual infrastructure, you can find yourself with a bad case of virtual sprawl all too quickly.

Virtualization products have made it increasingly easy to spin up new VMs anytime you need to start a new workload, a factor that lends itself to sprawl. Depending on your virtualization licensing plan, more VMs can also mean additional cost, so it’s important to watch this area for growth as well as configuration problems. Effective auditing and configuration management of your virtual systems will help avoid the worst problems.

3. Active Directory/Group Policy

I tend to think of Active Directory as the backbone that underlies the majority of your IT infrastructure—at least in a Windows-centric universe. It’s essential for authenticating users and devices to the network. Some applications rely on Active Directory structure or pull user data from it. With so much relying on it, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re carefully auditing Active Directory changes to avoid unfortunate errors.

Typically you use Group Policy to set or change security rules on your Active Directory environment, so it makes sense to think of these two together. Of course, Group Policy can also be used for user provisioning, software deployment, and for controlling which features of applications are available. In other words, there are lots of little moving pieces, potentially. If you’re not careful with your auditing of Active Directory and Group Policy, you can end up with users with the wrong permissions and other nasty compliance problems.

2. Passwords & Identity Management

The headlines over the past six months have included plenty of stories to make IT pros cringe—although it probably doesn’t take news stories to show how important security is to your business. Controlling access to your network and ensuring that users have access to the resources they need is a top priority—along with making sure unauthorized users aren’t slipping in surreptitiously. An important aspect of access control is an effective identity management system. Use auditing to make sure your user records are accurate and up-to-date.

At some point, we might move beyond passwords as an authentication mechanism; there are hints of this already with such things as fingerprint and face recognition. However, until such technologies become standard in the enterprise, managing end-user password issues will continue to be an IT time sink—not to mention a process prone to error. Logon auditing can be useful to spot potential problems early, where excessive failed log on attempts could indicate malicious activity against your network.

1. End Users

The weak link in security and IT system monitoring in general is always going to be end users. You can have the most secure system with the best security policies in place, and your users can still create risks. Users are inherently unpredictable—but they don’t have to be unmanageable. Effective education and continuous training about IT policies, along with the reasons for the policies, will go a long way toward creating a safer environment.

 

Of course, having good monitoring and auditing processes in place across your systems will help spot problems early, whether the problem was accidental or malicious. So, as we launch into a new year, take some time to review your systems and processes—and make sure your company doesn’t end up in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.