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A Mac Mgrs Sampler

Volume Number: 15 (1999)
Issue Number: 8
Column Tag: Systems

A Mac-Mgrs Sampler

by Chuck Goolsbee

Selected posts from the Macintosh Managers mailing list

What is Mac-Mgrs and How Does it Work?

The Macintosh Managers (mac-mgrs) mailing list is a virtual community made up of professional network managers working in Macintosh environments serving as a troubleshooting tool when all other forms of support fail. It is meant to assist the Macintosh Manager and be a quick source of information for system management problems that are of a time-critical nature. It is not a "Mac-only" group since cross-platform issues are nearly impossible to escape, but questions without at least some connection to the Macintosh world are considered off-topic. The list is very focussed on being a troubleshooting tool. We do not allow on-list discussion, or tolerate topic-drift of any sort. We're really there as your last-ditch resource, when all others have failed. We provide a website http://www.mac-mgrs.org which has links to both our list archives and virtually every troubleshooting resource for Macintosh Managers on the web. Users are expected to use these tools to search for answers to their problems and only post a question to the list if their answer can't be found. List members reply to the questioner directly and when a solution is discovered the a "Summary" is sent to the entire list describing the steps taken to correct the problem. Despite the focussed nature of the list itself the community of subscribers has grown and thrived into a global group of "net friends" of the best sort. Most of the interaction happens "off-line" but people do get to know each other and expertise is shared every day. The list has been credited with saving jobs and maintaining network manager sanity when all seems lost. We even have started to arrange face to face meetings at trade shows such as Macworld Expo, using buttons to find each other in the sea of faces. The buttons have a slogan which sums up the nature of the list: "You save my ass, I'll save yours." I invite you to join and participate with mac-mgrs. If what you read here is useful or informative in your day to day job then you'll find the list invaluable.

A Sampler

Our first plan was to run a "best of mac-mgrs" but after I considered it for a while I could not really come up with a definition of what would be "best" in the context of the list. What I might think "best" would probably be an outrageously esoteric question to most of the world, so I decided to take a "sampler" approach. I'll pick a couple of posts from the list based more on their broad usefulness or application. I'll contact the original questioner and get some more info about them, their network and any other info about the question or problem and present them here.

Mission-Critical Mac Support

A subscriber is looking for options of having a higher level of hardware support for his Macintosh computers, similar to what he has with his UNIX workstations. His name is Richard Noonan and he is a Network Engineer for Net Daemons Associates (NDA) currently supporting the Berkeley Drosophila Genome Group (BDGP) at Lawrence Berkeley Labs. NDA is a national consulting and out source group. BDGP is a cutting edge genetics sequencing lab using Macintosh systems as the sequencer device hosts as well as on the desktop. Drosophila, is 'drosophila melanogaster' AKA 'fruitfly'. If you're really interested, read all about the project at: http://www.sfweekly.com/1999/current/feature1-1.html

The original post to the list

I need advice on how to better support my Macs which are in a mission critical environment. I've been supporting Macs for several years and in production environments, but here at the lab we're using Macs in very mission critical scenarios. The failure of one system can bring our process to a crawl if not a stand still. Our environment is Sun Sparc/Solaris and Apple Mac's. We pay Sun a fair amount of money each year to ensure a minimum of downtime on their systems. If the hardware fails, they send me the part. If it still doesn't work, they send me an engineer to help. It's all handle with perfect efficiency and worth every penny. When I have a special request, there's always someone willing to hear me out and, more often than not, honor that request.

Recently, it took over 2 months to get a DOA Mac G3 repaired. Apple won't send parts to me, but they sent me a mentally disabled technician who repeatedly broke the system as he attempted to repair it (it still has a snapped kickstand). I have multiple dead Apple monitors just out of warranty. My local sources have said flatly that we will have to pay for the repairs ($600+, nearly 1/2 the cost of a 1 year old unit!). On the advice of listers here, I contacted Apple directly on the matter. The initial response sounded positive, but I just don't have 2 hours of every day to sit on hold and people who have said they would call me back are not calling me back.

I know there's some other lab support people on here and I know there's even more of you using Macs in heavy media production situations. How do you get the support you need??? I love Macs, still use one at home, but if I had my way, I'd throw away every single Apple product here simply because I can't get the type of support required for a mission critical operation. Please lend me your advice on this. Did I miss some special support program we could join? Is there a reasonable way to get Apple support authorized and have access to proper parts and support? How are the rest of you dealing with this?

Sorry if this took on the tone of a rant. Wasn't my intent. I really am in need of some advice on this.

The Summary

Suggestions broke down into 3 general approaches:

  1. Stockpile hardware to swap in when something fails - this has worked for Richard in the past, but just isn't the proper solution with a site the size of Lawrence Berkeley Labs.
  2. Get cozy with a local authorized service provider - this too has worked for Richard in the past and is a good fallback in the event that 3) doesn't work out. His problem with this is just the usual time and effort that has to be gone through when seeking a new vendor and trying to establish a "special" relationship. Harder too because LBL has already done the bulk of their purchasing for this fiscal year. Bringing another contractor in on site has it's problems too, but it just doesn't provide the right "feel" for the type of service Richard is trying to provide LBL.
  3. Become a "self-servicing" site - now this is what Richard was hoping for. This would allow the same privileges as a dealer/repair shop, but without the expectation that they're selling Macintosh computers.

Information on the "Self Servicing Account Program" :
Requirements:

  • installed base of 300 Apple CPU's

OR

  • geographically remote from an auth. service provider

OR

  • other special circumstances approved by Area Support Service Manager

AND

  • train and certify each technician

AND

  • keep a current subscription to req'd CD's, diagnostics, and training updates

The rest the features and benefits of the program amounts to being warranty service authorized, access to the online Apple Order program (immediate order fulfillment info and overnight shipping by Airborne), access to training materials, and access to tech support (Richard assumed this would be escalated support and not the "SOSAPPL bozos"). Basically, it gives you access to the same resources an Apple auth. shop has.

It appears that the program itself does not cost money. You simply have to be approved for it. One of the requirements of being in the program, however, is maintaining a "subscription to req'd CD's, diagnostics, and training updates." The stated cost of the subscription is $1495 for startup and $1000 for annual renewal. There's also a note requiring the site to "train and certify each technician."

For more info on the program, contact your Apple rep.

Richard added:
"In all fairness to Apple, I should mention that some of the problems I've been encountering have as much to do with the institutional bureaucracy I'm buried under here as they do with Apple directly. To those who wonder why I don't go to the Lab's internal Apple shop: it was dissolved just after I started working here and the only internal mechanism for resolving Apple repair issues is a guy who sends everything out to CompUSA or some other such retail place. As you might imagine, they are not very helpful and really don't care about my problems."

Printing to Apple LaserWriters from Windows

A list subscriber needs a way to print to several existing Apple LaserWriters from several hundred new Windows machines being added to his network. He is Steve Klein, 'Technology Support Specialist' for Detroit Country Day School <http://www.dcds.edu/>, a private school in Beverly Hills, Michigan. They have about 1500 students from pre-K to 12th grade, spread out across four campuses. Each campus has at least one computer lab, many classrooms have computers, and most of the 6th - 12th grade teachers have their own laptops.

The original post to the list

We have hundreds of Macs, and a few dozen LaserWriters. We've recently added about 150 Windows machines and plan to add about 900 more next year.

I'm looking for a good solution for Windows printing to our Apple LaserWriters. COPSTalk seems to work well, but the price is too high. Our servers are running ASIP 6, we don't need COPSTalk's file sharing features. In other words, COPSTalk is overkill.

Apple has something called the Apple Port Monitor for TCP/IP. It comes on the LaserWriter 8500 installer disk. It seems to work okay, but it only supports the 8500. Other LaserWriters, even if they have an IP address, aren't supported and don't work.

Is there any other cheap (or free?) utility that will get our Win 95 boxes talking to the LaserWriters? TCP/IP and/or AppleTalk support would be nice. Most of our LaserWriters support TCP/IP, so lack of AppleTalk support wouldn't be a big problem (but it would be nice...)

Again, I don't care about file sharing, just printing via ethernet. Any ideas?

The Summary - But wait, there's more...

Frequently more information will come in after a summary is posted to the list. In this case some details about the solutions provided above as well as an interesting variation, and a new solution previously thought impossible. In this case Steve Klein posted two summaries when several list members pointed out possibilities...

Steve was looking for a TCP/IP or an AppleTalk solution for printing from Windows to Apple LaserWriters. For TCP/IP, the solution is "ACITS LPR Remote Printing for Windows 95/98 and NT 4.0" available from http://shadowland.hf.utexas.edu/acitslpr.htm

The ACITS software allows printing to those LaserWriters that support the TCP/IP protocol. At first glance that includes the school's LaserWriter 8500's and 16/600 PSs, but not their LaserWriter Pro 630, and a other older LaserWriters. But MM listmember Kevin Worth wrote:

"I have ACITS printing to LW 630s, via a queue on my AppleShareIP 6.x server." Steve comments "I set up a queue and tested it. It works well. The Print Server in ASIP connect to AppleTalk and IP printers, and serve queue as AppleTalk, IP, or both. I made an "IP" only queue, and used the ACITS software on my Win95 box to print to that queue."

Charles Soto came up with a solution for AppleTalk-only printers.

"For AppleTalk printing, you can install Services For Macintosh on an NT Server, set up a print queue to this printer (don't capture it), then share that queue with the 95 boxes. " Steve came up with an even simpler solution that does not require the full SFM install: "First, from the Network control panel I added the AppleTalk protocol. Then I used the "Add Port" function to add an "AppleTalk Printer" port. That brought up a dialog to select the printer to which this port would connect. Next, I used the "Add Printer" command to create a new printer icon using my new port. Finally, I shared that printer (without capturing it). Now all the Win95/98 boxes see the printer as a shared printer on the NT box, while the Macs talk to the printer directly, just as they always did."

Nobody suggested anything cheap/free that supports direct printing over AppleTalk. COPSTalk is a good commercial solution that adds the AppleTalk protocol to Windows, and supports both printing and File Server access. But at $160 each, it's way overpriced for Steve's limited budget. Steve said "Even at half that price, it would be too much." But then Thomas A Manderfield reminded Steve that AppleShare 5 came with a license for COPSTalk. The school does have a copy of AS5, and Steve needs to check out the license agreement, but that may be the way to go. http://www.copstalk.com/

So it's ACITS for the printers that support TCP/IP, and the "Soto Solution" (NT queues) for the rest.

Until Next Time...

I hope these samples have been informative for you, and have provided a taste of what the mac-mgrs list provides on a hourly basis. If so consider subscribing. I have always felt that the best support comes from our peers. Very few of us went to school to be Network Managers and most of what we know comes from our own personal on-the-job-training. In and of itself that is not a well-rounded education in network management. By combining the experiences of thousands of individuals around the globe the mac-mgrs list provides a method of extending our knowledge and experiences to a whole community on a daily, ongoing basis.


Chuck Goolsbee (goolsbee@forest.net) has been the "List Mom" for the mac-mgrs mailing list since late 1996. He has a real job, too, and has been managing Macintosh (and UNIX & NT) networks for about ten years, including stops in London and Munich, but the majority has been in and around Seattle, Washington. He has honed and developed many relevant list-management skills as an Ice Hockey Referee in the US, Canada, and Europe.

 
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