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Veni vidi wiki

Can wikis be the answer to a long time network administration dilemma?

It seems like the whole world is obsessed with blogs these days. There have been a number of recent blog-related announcements -- not the least of which was Big Blue providing corporate guidelines for internal and external blogs and even providing blogging tools and a site for all 330,000 employees. While these announcements are leaving half the world thinking "what can I write without getting fired?" and the other half wondering about the implications of unprecedented levels of free speech and personal communication, the fact is that the tools and mindset that enable blogging as a technology are rapidly moving from "emerging" through "adoption" phases in the life cycle. When that happens, there will always be new and interesting ways to benefit from the technology as more brains begin to exercise it.

So partially, this tip is for network administrators to be on the lookout. Throughout the course of your normal activities, keep in mind how this move might affect anything from your security policies and firewall rules, to applications your users may soon ask you to install and support.

But mostly, this tip is about one particular aspect of this phenomenon that I believe could be pretty handy for teams of network administrators, and that is the wiki. If you're not familiar with them, wikis differ slightly from blogs in that anyone can modify the content, as opposed to blogs where a single person posts, and other people just read and append comments.

If you think about it, this ability for anyone to update content addresses a problem network administrators have been looking to solve for a long time, the problem of real-time documentation. It's particularly annoying when different projects are affecting the same part of the network, like a server or a LAN at the same time, and nobody is really sure who has the latest, greatest documentation. My suggestion is to take a look at some of these tools, as they might provide a great, low-cost solution.

Of course, I'm not recommending you put all your confidential diagrams and documentation on public services. That would obviously be a security problem. Instead, you could use one of several free software packages that allow you to set up your own wiki inside your company, and some of these are specifically oriented toward enterprise collaboration, like twiki.

Tom Lancaster, CCIE# 8829 CNX# 1105, is a consultant with 15 years experience in the networking industry, and co-author of several books on networking, most recently, CCSPTM: Secure PIX and Secure VPN Study Guide published by Sybex.

This was last published in June 2005

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