The OpenDNS SysAdmin Awards are designed to celebrate the elite network managers who persevere great challenges, oversee epic rollouts, hack creative work-arounds and manage limited budgets – all without much appreciation. Our esteemed panel of judges – the OpenDNS SysAdmins – was challenged with evaluating more than triple the entries we received last year, and the winners they chose do not disappoint. Without further ado, meet this year’s winners:
This wasn’t the only fire-related disaster submitted in this category, but Omar Mekassi was the clear winner for his incredible recovery work. Upon receiving a phone call (late Friday night, of course) to inform him that a few systems weren’t functioning, and finding VPN and remote access down as well, Omar quickly headed to the hospital where he works as the lone IT person. To his surprise, he found the server room up in flames. With burned servers, PCs and cables everywhere, he began rushing to find the necessary equipment to get things up and running that weekend. A new blade rack, six servers, 16 hard drives, two switches and one kg of Turkish coffee later, Omar was ready to start rebuilding. By some miracle (and a little help from a friend who was paid in pizza) he managed to get all the servers, systems and hundreds of PCs fully restored in just a few days. That has to be a record.
Matt Swartz, the winner of our Doing More with Less Award, blew away the judges with his creative use of open source technology to maximize his school’s small budget. Matt has completely overhauled the school’s approach to technology and IT security: Students and teachers use cloud-based email, calendar and docs; Atom-powered computers save the school energy, maintenance and up-front costs; and all students have access to safe, secure, easy-to-use Wi-Fi anywhere in the building.
Matt’s cost-saving efforts also put the school at the forefront of technological advancement. He’s currently working to implement the use of solar power and Raspberry Pi microcomputers ($25-$50 each). Matt’s colleagues also reached out to tell us that Matt always takes time to educate teachers and students students on technology trends, making him “not just a great SysAdmin, but a great mentor, too.”
Richard Doherty, The Renaissance Charter School
Our judges were touched by the story they heard about Richard Doherty, who went from supportive parent to part-time volunteer to full-time teacher at his daughter's school. Time and again, Richard has managed to make miracles out of hand-me-down equipment, donations and a little help from his own personal rainy day fund. Although Richard has made numerous sacrifices to advance The Renaissance Charter School's technology programs, there was one thing in particular that our judges just couldn't let go. For years Richard made do with a parent-donated wire-crimping tool ($20 at Home Depot) that required creatively positioning a match around a wire to get a decent crimp. Now that's dedication.
Steve Wilson, the solo SysAdmin for the U.K. Pirate Party, inherited a large, complicated and undocumented implementation of Django on a Linux server that could only be described as a system that, “worked, assuming you didn’t want to do anything, change anything or keep it up-to-date.” Steve spent 18 months revamping the U.K. Pirate Party’s network, which serves around 10,000 users each day. His colleagues told us, “It is no hyperbole to state that the Party would not be where it is today without Steve and the herculean effort he puts in without so much as a grumble." Here’s the kicker: Steve is an unpaid volunteer.
We hear that word of Steve’s impressive leadership through the overhaul traveled fast, and the Pirate Party is now seeing lots of new IT volunteers. Perhaps Steve won’t be flying solo much longer.
For those of you wondering what to do with your old Web filtering appliance now that you’re using cloud-based OpenDNS, the winner of our Hand-Me-Down-Hacker award has a few ideas. We selected Justin Sitton from Spitzer Industries after hearing how he hacked his company’s old Barracuda Web filtering box into a, “quick and dirty backup firewall.” The story of the Zombie-cuda, as Justin calls it, started when Justin began taking apart the box and stripping out its components. After ripping out the appliance’s hard-drive and installing Ubuntu 11.04, XRDP and Firestarter, Justin made a handful of other tweaks and hacks that eventually allowed him to connect it to the company’s secondary Internet connect and replace another malfunctioning router. All in a day’s work for our 2012 Hand-Me-Down-Hacker.
Khanh Tran, IT Director for Sarah Lawrence College, was the clear standout in this new category. The networks Khanh oversees are myriad, diverse and accessed by more than 2,000 students and faculty members. He runs networked offices, classrooms, student residence halls and even recreation spaces. Additionally, he’s challenged with maintaining a secure environment even with students bringing their own laptops, smart phones, PS3s, XBOXs and desktop computers. And did we mention Khanh even supports the campus radio station and handles all the school’s IT support requests? Forget a SysAdmin Award. Someone get this guy a medal.
Of all the entries we received in this category, what made Alex stand out was the pure passion with which he talks about all things technology. His commitment to the people who use his network (that’s more than 3,000 City of Pittsburgh employees and many, many more over public Wi-Fi) leads him to make himself available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. He also spends his nights and weekends seeking out all the knowledge he can on new practices, products, trends and technologies that can help the city improve efficiency and save costs, which any government network admin can tell you is a much-needed focus. And that’s not all. Alex also leads the VMware user group and has founded an organization to help techies share information and resources. His colleagues tell us he does this all with a smile, and a patient willingness to educate.
Matthew Struck, Struckture Homegrown Technology
We couldn’t help but acknowledge Matt Struck, who runs an IT consulting business, after we received tons of emails from his clients begging us to give him the appreciation he deserves. Each client told us a unique story about how Matt had miraculously saved the day for their small business, and taken the time to teach them something in the process.
Rafael Miranda, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
When we found Rafael’s name entered in several of our categories alongside very compelling stories, we knew we had to give him some credit for the work he does. The breadth of the responsibilities he holds, his diverse credentials that range from troubleshooting time clocks to massive infrastructure deployments, and his, “commitment to customer service that has been a model” for his organization, all add up to a very honorable mention.
The Neat Freak category has long-been one of our most popular, and each year we end up with even more impressive pictures than the last. This year is no exception. Ryan Kingstedt, IT director for Vascular Solutions, dazzled us with before and after pictures of his spotless server room. We can only imagine how many nights and weekends went into this overhaul. The pictures speak for themselves:
This story is certified PEBCAK by both the OpenDNS Operations and Support teams. We’ll let our winner, Nick Brown from Rochester and Associates, tell it himself:
"For weeks one of our users kept submitting and resubmitting a ticket saying Internet Explorer was opening up, all on it’s own, with no human prompt. We tried basic trouble shooting, with anti-virus, anti-malware, system diagnostics, etc., but still came up empty. ‘It must be Spyware or someone messing with him,’ we thought, ‘or he’s going crazy.’ I headed over with my team to take a look and POOF, just like the user said IE opens. Alas, I never made it to the keyboard to find a solution. As we were standing there, jaws dropped, a large-statured co-worker walked by and helped us solve the mystery. It turned out, the Internet key (placed ever-so-near the edge of the 21” CRT monitor) was being pressed by floor vibrations created by hearty passers-by."
We tried to convince the winner of this category to let us publicly celebrate him, but he was just too paranoid. Maybe we shouldn’t have shown up to congratulate him in that black helicopter.
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