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The Domestic IT Department

Apr 21, 2010 | Information Technology

It occurred to me lately that I need a part-time sysadmin for my home computer setup. Over the years it has grown in complexity, to rival the network of a typical small business.

The thing is, my setup isn’t hugely atypical for a home office.I’ve had more than 15 years experience at the cutting edge of IT, but seemingly simple tasks on my small infrastructure can often give me a headache. What hope do typical users have? An ECDL (European Computer Driving License) certainly won’t equip you with the knowledge required to secure your local machines and network, or share resources between them as any regular user might reasonably expect to be able to do with ease.

Current MacBook Pro Setup
Steve Keys

This helps to explain the endless stream of folks I encounter wth unsecured wi-fi, firewalls disabled, virus scanner definitions out of date, browsers running 5 or 6 adware toolbars. Their malware-laden machine usually has the overall responsiveness of a three toed sloth, because an IRC bot has monopolised its resources to send viagra spam and participate in DDOS attacks.

I’ve got a desktop machine running Vista, where I work if I’m not in the business office. There’s an XP machine that powers my recording studio. I have an ageing laptop running Ubuntu connecting into the network via wireless. Finally, my most recent acquisition is a small 1Tb NAS (Network Attached Storage) appliance to allow me to centralise file storage and backups from the various machines.

The NAS has an FTP server, allowing me to “dial in” from anywhere in the world, as I’ve set up the router for dynamic DNS and set up the NAS in a demilitarized zone so I can access it from the internet. The NAS has a bittorrent client, and required port forwarding to be configured on the broadband router. Finally, the NAS has a samba server to allow the different machines to mount various folders, each with it’s own access control list. I’ve set up the router to allow wireless, but with a MAC address whitelist and security/encryption configured as best I can.

I’ve just finished reconfiguring every device on my network to use static IP addresses instead of DHCP, as some weirdness with avahi on Ubuntu meant that it’s samba client wouldn’t talk to the NAS samba server. And now I’ve done that, I can mount the NAS from the terminal, but Nautilus can no longer access my windows network.

I’ll figure it out, but I’ll require the benefit of years of experience to guide me. The point is, I’m being bamboozled by relatively simple tasks. It is unreasonable to aim to educate all computer users to a BSc IT level. Computing is getting more complex rather than simpler, so we cant hope that the Microsoft troubleshooter will be able to bail us out of anything more complex than a printer-out-of-paper error. How, then, can we deal with this widening chasm between computer capability and user capability as computing becomes ubiquitous in every facet of our lives?

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