The Practice of System and Network Administration

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Press:Addison-Wesley Addison-Wesley Professional; 1 edition (August 24, 2001)
Publication Date:2005
Author Name:Thomas A. Limoncelli & Christine Hogan
Edition:1st Edition


This is the definitive guide for today's system and network administrators. 
It covers the entire craft of system/network administration: today's best techniques, practices, and principles, as well as rarely discussed -- but critical -- career and management issues.
Thomas Limoncelli and Christine Hogan show how to think like a sysadmin, discussing the approaches and processes that experienced system and network administrators always use, but hardly ever document.
Through real-world examples the authors present both the philosophy and practical day-to-day techniques of system administration, offering guidance that will help system and network administrators regardless of the platforms and environments they are responsible for.
Early sections blend philosophy and practice, while the final section introduces specific techniques and policies that can supercharge the effectiveness of any system or network administrator.
For all system and network administrators, and for the managers who supervise and train them.

About the Author

Thomas A. 
Limoncelli is Director of Operations at Lumeta Corporation, a venture startup that focuses on intranet security.
His more than 11 years of experience includes time at Drew University, Mentor Graphics, and seven years supporting the researchers and scientists at Bell Labs.
Christine Hogan is an independent consultant.
Her 11-plus years of experience have been gained at a variety of different companies including Trinity College in Dublin, Synopsys, and Global Networking and Computing (GNAC).
Currently, she is taking time out to earn a Ph.D.
at Imperial College in London.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The  goal of this book is to write down all the things that we've learned from our mentors and our real-world experiences. 
These are the things that are beyond what the manuals and the usual system administration books teach.
System administrators (SAs) often find themselves swamped with work, struggling to keep the site running, and faced with requests for new technologies from their customers.
Servers are overloaded or unreliable, but fixing the problem requires weeks of planning and painstakingly untangling a mess of services so that they can be moved to new machines.
Hidden dependencies are lurking around every corner, and getting bitten by one can be catastrophic.
In the meantime, repetitive day-to-day tasks still need to be done.
The challenges seem insurmountable.
Most sites grow organically, with little thought given to the big picture as each little change is implemented.
Haphazardly, SAs learn about the fundamentals of good site design and support practices.
They are taught by mentors, if at all, about the importance of simplicity, clarity, generality, automation, communication, and doing the basics first.
These six principles are recurring themes in this book.
Simplicity means that the smallest solution that solves the entire problem is the best solution.
It keeps the systems easy to understand and reduces complex interactions between components that can cause debugging nightmares.
Clarity means that the solution is not convoluted.
It can be easily explained to someone on the project or even outside the project.
Clarity makes it easier to change the system, as well as to maintain and debug it.
Generality means that the solution solves many problems at once.
Sometimes the most general solution is the simplest.
It also means using vendor-independent open standard protocols that make systems more exible and make it easier to link software packages together for better services.
Automation is critical.
Manual processes cannot be repeated accurately nor do they scale as well as automated processes.
Automation is key to easing the system administration burden, and it eliminates tedious repetitive tasks and gives SAs more time to improve services.
Communication between the right people can solve more problems than hardware or software.
You need to communicate well with other SAs and with your customers.
It is your responsibility to initiate communication.
Communication ensures that everyone is working toward the same goals.
Lack of communication leaves people concerned and annoyed.
Communication also includes documentation: document customers needs to make sure you agree on them, document design decisions you make, document maintenance procedures.
Documentation makes systems easier to maintain and upgrade.
Good communication and proper documentation also make it easier to hand off projects and maintenance when you leave or take on a new role.
Doing the basics first means that you build the site on strong foundations by identifying and solving the basic problems before trying to attack more advanced ones.
Doing the basics first makes adding advanced features considerably easier, and it makes services more robust.
A good basic infrastructure can be repeatedly leveraged to improve the site with relatively little effort.
Sometimes we see SAs at other sites making a huge effort to solve a problem that wouldn't exist, or would be a simple enhancement, if the site had a basic infrastructure in place.
This book will help you identify what the basics are and show you how the other five principles apply.
Each chapter looks at the basics of a given area.
Get the fundamentals right, and everything else will fall into place.
These principles are universal.
They apply at all levels of the system.
They apply to physical networks and to computer hardware.
They apply to all operating systems running at the site, all protocols used, all software, and all services provided.
They apply at universities, non-profit institutions, government sites, businesses, and Internet service sites.
What Is an SA? It's difficult to define what a system administrator is.
Every company calls SAs something different.
Sometimes they are called network administrators, system architects, or operators.
Maybe the name isn't important a rose by any other name .
Explaining What System Administration Entails It's difficult to define system administration, but trying to explain it to a nontechnical person is even more difficult, especially if that person is your mom.
Moms have the right to know how their offspring are paying their rent.
A friend of Christine's always had trouble explaining to his mother what he did for a living and ended up giving a different answer every time she asked.
Therefore she kept repeating the question every couple of months, waiting for an answer that would be meaningful to her.
Then he started working for WebTV.
When the product became available, he bought one for his Mom.
From then on, he told her that he made sure that her WebTV service was working and was as fast as possible.
She was very happy that she could now show her friends something and say, "That's what my son does!" System administrators do many things.
They look after computers, networks, and the people who use them.
An SA may look after hardware, operating systems, software, configurations, applications, or security.
A system administrator is someone who influences how effectively other people can use their computers and networks.
System Administration Matters System administration matters because computers and networks matter.
Computers are a lot more important than they were years ago.
What happened? First of all, the technology has changed.
Corporate computers used to be independent, now they are connected.
Business processes used to have a component that involved using a computer, now entire processes are done online and come to a halt if any part of the system is broken.
The widespread use of the Internet, intranets, and the move to a dot com world has redefined the way companies depend on computers.
The Internet is a 24 x 7 operation, and sloppy operations can no longer be tolerated.
A paper purchase order can be processed any time, anywhere; therefore there is an expectation that the computer system that automates the process will be available all the time, from anywhere.
Nightly maintenance windows have become an unheard of luxury.
That unreliable power system in the machine room that caused occasional but bearable problems now prevents sales from being recorded.
The biggest change, however, is due to CEOs putting a new importance on computing.
In business, nothing is important unless the CEO feels it is important.
The CEO controls funding and sets priorities.
Now CEOs have become dependent on email.
They notice when an outage or an overloaded system slows down their email.
The massive preparations for Y2K also brought home to CEOs how dependent their organizations have become on computers.
We use the term chief executive officer (CEO) loosely to mean the top person in an organization.
Educational institutions have CEOs, they're just referred to as president, provost, proctor, or head.
Governments have CEOs they're just referred to as mayor, governor, Prime Minister, leader, or President.
Management now has a more realistic view of computers.
Previously people had unrealistic ideas of what computers could do; seeing them as portrayed in film: big, all-knowing, self-sufficient, miracle machines.
This has changed.
Even the need for SAs is now portrayed in films.
In 1993, Jurassic Park (Crichton 1993) was the first mainstream movie to portray computers as needing system administration, leading to a better public understanding of what it is.
Computers matter more than ever.
If computers are to work and work well, then system administration matters.
We matter.
About the Book This book was born from our experiences as SAs in a variety of companies.
We have helped sites to grow.
We have worked at small start-ups and universities, where lack of funding was an issue.
We have worked at mid-size and large multinationals, where mergers and spin-offs give rise to more challenges.
We ve worked at fast-paced companies that do business on the Internet and have high-availability, high-performance, and rapid scaling issues.
On the surface, these are very different environments with diverse challenges.
But underneath, they all need the same building blocks, and the same fundamental principles apply.
This book gives you a framework a way of thinking about system administration problems rather than a narrow how-to solution to a particular problem.
Given a solid framework, you can solve problems every time they appear, no matter what operating system (OS), brand of computer, or type of environment.
This book is unique because it looks at system administration from this point of view, whereas most books for SAs focus on how to maintain one particular type of OS.
With experience, however, all SAs learn that the big-picture problems and solutions are largely independent of the platform.
This book will change the way you approach your work as an SA and the way you view the site you maintain.
The principles in this book apply to all environments.
The approaches described may need to be scaled up or down, depending on your environment, but the basic principles still apply.
In chapters where we felt that how to apply the information to other environments might not be obvious, we have included a section that illustrates how to apply the principles at different companies.
This book is not about how to configure or debug a particular OS.
It will not tell you how to recover the shared libraries or DLLs when someone accidentally moves them.
There are some excellent books that do cover those topics, and we will refer you to many of them throughout the book.
What we will discuss here are the principles of good system administration, both basic and advanced, that we have learned through our own and others experiences.
These principles apply to all OSs.
Following them well can make your life a lot easier.
If you improve the way you approach problems, the benefit will be multiplied.
Get the fundamentals right, and everything else falls into place.
If they aren't done well, you will waste time repeatedly fixing the same things, and your customers2 will be unhappy because they can't work effectively with broken machines.
2Throughout the book we refer to the end-user of our systems as customers rather than users.
A detailed explanation of why we do this is in Section 26.1.2.
We believe that SAs of all levels will benefit from reading this book.
It gives junior SAs insight into the bigger picture of how sites work, their roles in the organizations, and how their careers can progress.
Intermediate SAs will learn how to approach more complex problems and how to improve the sites, making their jobs easier and more interesting and their customers happier.
It will help you to understand what is behind your day-to-day work, to learn the things that you can do now to save time in the future, to decide policy, to be architects and designers, to plan far into the future, to negotiate with vendors, and to interface with management.
These are the things that concern senior SAs.
None of them are listed in an OS's manual.
Even senior SAs and systems architects can learn from our experiences and the experiences of our colleagues that are captured in these pages, as we have learned from each other in writing this book.
We also cover several management topics, both for SA managers and for SAs who aspire to move into management.
The easiest way to learn usually is by example, particularly in the case of practical areas like system administration.
Throughout the book, we use examples to illustrate the points we are making.
The examples are mostly from medium or large sites, where scale adds its own problems.
Typically, the examples are generic rather than specific to a particular OS, although some are OS-specific, usually Unix or Windows.
One of the strongest motivations we had for writing this book is the understanding that the problems SAs face are the same across all OSs.
A new OS that is significantly different from what we are used to can seem like a black box, a nuisance, or even a threat.
However, despite the unfamiliar interface, as we get used to the new technology, eventually we realize that we face the same set of problems in deploying, scaling, and maintaining the new OS.
Recognizing that fact, knowing what problems need solving, and understanding how to approach the solutions by building on experience with other OSs let us master the new challenges more easily.
We want this book to be something that changes your career.
We want you to become so successful that if you see us on the street you'll give us a great big hug.
Organization This book has four major parts: Part I, The Principles, discusses the most basic issues SAs deal with, but we view them from the perspective of the frameworks that will lead you to doing them well.
Part II, The Processes, deals with change and the frameworks for making changes in ways that ensure success.
Part III, The Practices, collects our thoughts on what makes a great system, a great email service, a great print service, a great helpdesk, and so on.
Part IV, Management, comes next.
Don't be afraid--it won't bite you.
Actually, it will bite you, and we want you to be prepared.
This part should help you understand your organization, your customers, yourself, and your managers.
It ends with an exciting chapter on how to fire other SAs a very delicate situation indeed.
The book ends with several appendices.
Appendix A discusses the roles that you and others play.
It's a catalog of the various people we've met or worked with and the value they bring to an organization.
Appendix B connects the dots.
It covers many situations you may experience and points you to the various places in the book that should be helpful.
Please don't look at it now because you may find it so interesting that you won't return to finish reading this preface.
Appendix C contains a list of acronyms used in the text.
Each chapter discusses a different topic, and the topics vary from the technical to the nontechnical.
If one chapter doesn't apply to you, feel free to skip it.
The chapters are linked to each other, so you may find yourself returning to a chapter that you previously thought was boring.
We won't be offended.
There are two halves to each chapter: The Basics and The Icing.
The Basics discusses the essentials that you just plain have to get right.
Skipping any of these items will simply create more work for you in the future.
Consider them investments that pay off in efficiency later on.
The Icing deals with the cool things that you can do to be spectacular.
Don't spend your time with these things until you are done with The Basics.
We have made an attempt to drive the points home through anecdotes and case studies from personal experience.
We hope that this makes the advice here more real for you.
Never trust salespeople who don't use their own products.
What's Next? Each chapter stands on its own.
Feel free to jump around.
However, we have carefully ordered the chapters so that they make the most sense if you read the book from start to finish.
Either way, we hope you enjoy the book.
We have learned a lot and had a lot of fun writing it.
Let's begin.
Thomas A.
Limoncelli Lumeta Corporation Christine Hogan Independent Consultant P.S.
Books, like software, always have bugs.
We intend to maintain a list of updates to this book on its web site: or our web site, .
Please visit! 0201702711P08082001


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Comment List (Total:13)

  •     The Practice of System and Network Administration shows you how to become a great SA.This is no 'for dummies' book.
  •     The book market is flooded with books that will tell you all about the technical details of administering various software products and operating systems. Their scope is usually limited to whatever technical product is being written about and they become outdated as quickly as the technology becomes outdated. This book is very different. It gives guidelines in a very readable, coaching style, that can be applied to many different aspects of the System Administration trade.I have been a System Administrator for a few years now, but this book clarifies many of the issues that I work with daily. It's like a having a mentor on my bookshelf that I can pull down and consult for advice. I especially like the whole section of seven chapters dealing with different aspects of management. These chapters should be mandatory reading for every SA -- and their bosses.The book is written in a very readable style and has many useful and insightful real-world examples that show that the authors have been around and learned a lot on the way. The book is worth reading just for these examples. I read the book from cover to cover.I first heard about this book when I attended a seminar Tom Limoncelli taught at the 2003 LISA conference titled "Time Management for System Administrators: How to Keep from Going (More) Crazy". Many of the topics in the seminar are covered in detail in the book.If you're a system administrator, you should read this book.
  •     Every systems/ICT administrator must have a read at this book as I have not come across any similar book in its category.
  •     I agree with some of the worse reviews: This book addresses all the touchy-feely stuff not found in other manuals.
  •     "The Practice of System and Network Administration" (TPOSANA) sat on my shelf for nearly a year before I read it. I wish now I'd read it a year ago!
  •     The thing about this book is that it's a theoretical treatise on systems administration as a discipline in and of itself.
  •     Looking at the reviews under 4 stars, the reader clearly had a wrong idea about what to expect, or they don't realize how important it is to apply the ideas in this book.
  •     As a UNIX sysadmin veteran, I wish this book had been around when I started out. It would have saved so many headaches as I "learned the hard way."Though not a nitty gritty technical book, this one is a must have for every sysadmin, regardless of skill level or the technology s/he uses. For the novice admin, it offers a good big picture look at the most important "whys" of system administration. For the intermediate admin, it has great advice on how to balance fire fighting with project work that will lessen the need for the fire fighting. For the senior admin, there are gems of design wisdom and sections on how to deal with being in a managerial or team leader role. Because it's more high level, this book is even a good buy for people who manage sysadmins but are not themselves technical.The chapters are conveniently split into the "basics" and the "icing," depending on the skill of the reader and the state of the reader's work environment. The authors back up their sound advice with real world case studies and personal experiences. Best of all, not only was it a good read cover to cover, it's organized so that the reader can come back to it as a reference later.Kudos to Tom and Christine for writing an excellent book, one which I will certainly be recommending to my clients and colleagues!
  •     If you are looking for a fundamentals book on Unix or Windows 2000 operating systems, go elsewhere. This book is completely about the methodologies for architecting, running and...
  •     If you're an experienced SysAdmin, then you will have already learned most of the hard lessons this book can help you avoid, but it can still be valuable to sit down and see them...
  •     Excellent book as a baseline of the basics of good system administration.
  •     Good sysadmins know the technical details. They can resurrect a dead server, understand the intricacies of sendmail or the Windows registry, and recite all of the types of DNS records by heart. They own copies of the UNIX System Administration Handbook and refer to them regularly. They are good sysadmins, and will contribute solidly at an intermediate level.Great sysadmins know all of that and what is in this book. They are the ones who go on to become the senior sysadmins and consultants, have fabulous careers, and are respected by their bosses, co-workers, and customers.There is much more to a technical job than simply the technical skills. Don't buy this book to learn how to run a system or you will be disappointed. Do, however, buy it to learn how to be an effective professional systems administrator.It is also useful for a manager of sysadmins who is either non-technical, or has never been a sysadmin himself, as it is a good introduction to the issues and concerns that sysadmins need to face.Limoncelli and Hogan cover many topics, including: - Trouble ticket systems - Desktops and Servers (how they're the same, differ, etc.) - Administrative networks (why bother?) - Requirements (gathering, tracking, etc.) - Standards and centralization of services - How to do debugging (not "you see this problem, do this" but rather learning the process of doing good debugging) - Fix things once, not over and over again - Security policies (including management and organizational issues for a variety of organizational profiles) - Disaster Recovery (again, not how to backup data, but why you'd want to, legal issues, etc.) - Systems Administration Ethics - Change management and revision control - Maintenance windows: what they are and why they're good for both you and your users - Centralization versus Decentralization - Helpdesks: sizing, scope, processes, escalation, etc. - Data centers (many physical facility concerns that sysadmins don't often think of, including how to move a datacenter) - Managing non-OS software (commercial and free)They will help you answer questions like - Does server hardware really cost more? Do we go with a few expensive servers or many cheap ones? - What does "redundancy" actually mean? - Why would we spend money on backups? There's never been an outage... - What do I do when asked to do something illegal? - How do I communicate and schedule large system changes? - How do I do a safe server upgrade? - They want to decentralize the sysadmin group -- what do we do? - How do we move our datacenter? - What sort of policy issues are there with email? - How do I deal with my customers abusing printers? - What do we have to worry about if we're implementing remote access (e.g. dialup modem banks) for our users?Finally, they close with an entire section on Management: - How to deal with cost centers, management chains, hiring, customer support, and outsourcing. - How to manage your customers perceptions and your team's visibility - How to manage your own happiness (time management, communication, professional development, managing your manager, etc.) - How to be a technical manager, how to work with non-technical managers, manage your own career growth, etc. - How to hire good sysadmins, recruiting, interviewing, soft skills, technical skills, employee retention, etc. - The special concerns around how to fire sysadmins (often problematic, given their higher level of access)They even have a chapter for non-technical managers who are in charge of sysadmins (this entire book would be very useful to give to a non-technical manager who doesn't really 'get it'.)The book closes with three appendixes: A. The Many Role of a System Administrator B. What to Do When... C. AcronymsAppendix B is particularly useful, answering a wide variety of questions with solid, practical answers.The skills and concepts in this book are the make-or-break in many careers. They turn you from just another sysadmin into a star performer, sensitive to your customers and the business, able to interact with a wide spectrum of people.
  •     The book is a nice guide to system administration. I am fairly proficient on computers, but had not system admin experience and read through this as a primer.

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