The Practice of System and Network Administration

Authors: Thomas A. Limoncelli & Christine Hogan
Pages: 816
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
ISBN: 0-201-70271-1

Available for download is appendix B entitled “What to Do When…”.


A system administrator – ‘makes things work’. This could easily be the shortest and most effective definition of system administration there is. Now, there are all sorts of system administrators out there. But in order to be a good one, a lot of practice and thinking has to be invested into developing these skills. Sometimes it can be quite hard to find a good all-around solution to problems, or trying to keep things simple. And sometimes, yes sometimes, you need outside help to do things. Now, in order to start from the beginning, it’s recommended to plan things ahead and carefully consider different variables. Sure, it’s quite a demanding job, and the longer you do it more responsibilities you get. At some time, you get to a level of such an infrastructure you don’t want to mess things up. And by then, they already might be messed up with you completely unaware of the fact. Yep, and I bet that it happened at some point already. Now, wouldn’t be great to administrate such an infrastructure that is almost flawless and super-efficient? Yes, and that is really hard to achieve. And guess what? I have a gossip that might interest you. A rumour is, that a book exists that could make your life easier and help you elevate your skills to a higher level. I’ve followed the clues and breadcrumbs, only to find out the following facts…

Fact 1: A brief run-through of the book contents

This larger-than-life, all around guide to system and network administration is written by Thomas A. Limoncelli and Christine Hogan. Thomas A. Limoncelli is the Director at Lumeta Corporation, a venture startup focusing on intranet security. Christine Hogan, on the other hand, is a independent consultant, with more than 11 years of experience. As you can clearly see from the summary located few dozen lines up, they have successfully arranged and presented us with a book that is not your average bind-apache-to-port-80 and add users administration guide. Don’t allow that the fact that is has 700+ pages frighten you, as it has a soft cover, so you won’t need to exercise before going into reading. It’s filled with humor, and as the old Latin proverb, ‘de gustibus non disputandum est’, says some might find it appealing, some not. I did. And it really freshens up the reading, with it’s little one-liners or funny anecdotes from real life. Way to go! Not to say it’s a comedy book, or that it needs jokes, as it would stand on it’s own quite nice without them. But, lets see what does it offer…

As it’s a fairly large book, the authors have nicely divided it into 4 major parts for our reading pleasure, consisting of 31 chapters and 3 appendixes to go along. Each chapter is divided into 2 parts, the basics and the icing. Like it says, the basics introduces us with the subject, common techniques and suggestions on making the job easier. The icing on the other hand goes a bit deeper into the subject and gives pointers, clues and ideas for making that extra effort worth while, and also working. You should go for the basics first, then the icing, or you’ll be a bit lost. Of course, if you’ve been a senior system administrator for years, you might already know a lot of things discussed, but surely not all. But, if you don’t feel like reading the entire book, fear not as each chapter can stand on it’s own.

The 4 major parts go as follows:
Part 1, the basics, which discusses the very basic issues of being a system administrator, and things you may stumble across. It consists of chapters like desktops, services, servers, debugging and ethics among others. Just the material to start with, and some things every system administrator must know. If you’re interested in becoming one – a must.

Part 2, the processes, deals with changes. Eventually, changes occur. Actually, the only constant in life there is, is the fact that everything changes. So, being a system administrator, you’ll come across changes done or that have to be done, on a regular basis. And if you want to keep up, you’ll have to do them, on the system and yourself. So, this is the part that will help you on that, with change management, server and service
upgrades. Essential stuff.

Part 3 of the book is about practice. You can call it a collection of practical experiences the authors have with system administration. You’ll find in it everything you wanted to know about real life experiences in setting e-mail service, print services, remote access, networks, data centres and even helpdesks ad customer care. Quite useful.

The 4th part of the book is the part that many system administrators don’t like or resent. The management. You’ll find information about the organizational structures, guides for technical and non-technical managers, and a variety of all other information. So, even if you’re not into management, it would be useful to read it. And you should know with what you’re dealing with. This part of the book is actually what sets it apart from other books on administration. How many of them deal with things like personal skills or communication? Not many. How about developing them? Even less. This part has a chapter called ‘Being happy’. When have you seen that in a book about system administration?

That’s quite a lot of information there, and you certainly won’t get lost. You’ll find the necessary principals for successful system administration in it, all neatly assorted in its chapters.

Fact 2: Street talk on the book

Ok, it’s easy to say that this book is great. If this is the sentence you’ve been looking for, there. Go, buy or rent it, just read it. For all of you that actually have made it this far, and are still interested in reading more, congratulations, read on. 🙂

This book takes a different angle to system and network administration. You will not find answers to specific problems, like using apache as a proxy on a same machine with IIS, and such. No. The book is a bit leaned towards Unix, but the general idea and most of it is applicable to any advanced operating system out there. You will find general ideas, pointers, and guides to every possible aspect of system administration. It focuses on the six basic principles of system administration: simplicity, clarity, generality, automation, communication and basics first. And as such, it covers it virtually all. Thats why I said at the beginning ‘larger-than-life’. It is a sort of a manual/bible of system administration. When you start reading it, you’ll be fascinated of the variety and the amount of topics covered, in a way that’s more than enjoyable and easy to follow. And the best thing is that as time passes, it will not render it useless.

For whom it is ment for? All system administrators out there and all those who wish to become one. A successful one, to be precise. Sure, a lot of skills come from experience and nothing can replace that, but you need a guide to point you in the right direction. Everyone can set up a web server that will work. But, when it comes to changing or upgrading, problems arise. Minor difficulties, in comparison to others, but an annoyance never the less. Now multiply that by 10, and add a constant worry for the system and customers, other tasks to be done and imagine all hell that brakes loose. At one point the book states the definition of a system administrator as a person that makes things work. If you think that is difficult, just wait to start maintaining them, or when a need for an upgrade emerges. It can be a stressful job sometimes. Make your life easier and plan things. This book will show you how to do that, and a lot more.

So, to finally bring a long story short, this is not a collection of printed manual pages, but a full and comprehensive guide to system administration. As a system administrator your duty is to keep up with the technology, and that’s what you have to do on your own. This book is the guide on how to. Read it, even if you think you know everything there is. You’ll be surprised of some simple ideas and notions that have never crossed your mind.

Right now, can’t think of a better book about system administration. And I must stop with the praises now, or I will run out of batteries if I continue.

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