by Christopher Smith
Authors: Thomas Limoncelli, Christina J. Hogan, Strata R. Chalup
Publisher: Addison Wesley
Publication Date: June 2007 (2nd Edition)
Buy it. Buy it. Buy it.
If you are a systems or network administrator and you do not own a copy of this book, stop reading this right now and go get one. If you are a manager responsible for the care and feeding of a technical team, purchase copies for yourself and each of your team members. Heck, even if you’re unfortunate enough to be married to a systems administrator (*gasp*), buy a copy for your significant other and steal it when they aren’t looking. It’s that good. You’ll get a better understanding of what he or she does on a daily basis, as well as be able to finally explain it to your mother-in-law. (True story!) Here’s why.
The Practice of System and Network Administration by authors Limoncelli, Hogan, and Chalup is, simply put, the finest practical guide on the market today covering how to be a good systems administrator. Its charter goal is to provide a framework for solving system problems with an implementation-agnostic, best practice methodology. The book is designed to be easy to both skim around and navigate to the parts that most interest you as well as flowing together well enough to read chapter to chapter. Each chapter is structured in the same way, as follows:
1. The Basics
The basics are, at a minimum, the kinds of things you’re going to want to be thinking about while working on the task (or types of tasks) a given chapter is based on. It includes anecdotes, stories, and other useful tips and tricks from each of the authors in the process. Generally, these are things you might classify as “need to have.”
2. The Icing
The icing is, well, the icing. Its the kind of stuff you dream about having in your environment. For example, if you’re having trouble cooling your data center due to system overload, you’re not really to the point where you can worry about voice-activated door controls to provide higher levels of security. Someday, sure–but not today.
The conclusion section of each chapter highlights all the major themes discussed. It also provides a series of exercises at the end to help you assess where your environment is today, as well as generate more food for thought on the topics covered in each chapter.
A few of my favorite highlights
Chapter 1: What to Do When…
This chapter sets the tone by building a set of task-based checklists to guide the would-be sysadmin through some of the higher level tasks you might be expected to complete some day. For example, if you’ve ever been involved in an office move or a data center migration, you know how complicated these sorts of tasks can be. If you’re lucky, maybe you have a PMO office or project manager who can assist you with planning this out. If you don’t, while by no means all inclusive, this chapter contains a checklist of the bare minimum steps and items you should lay out ahead of time to be successful. Each item on the checklist links back to relevant sections of later chapters as a reference for additional detail.
Chapter 6: Data Centers
If you’ve ever needed to plan a data center deployment, this chapter is for you. It starts off by detailing many of the concerns you need to be thinking about as a systems administrator responsible for service delivery: things like power, cooling, rack space, square footage, and how to choose a good data center. However, what I found most interesting was that each author put together a “Dream Data Center” in the icing, complete with a diagram for one of them! All in all, very cool.
Chapter 18: Server Upgrades
Server upgrades are a big part of any systems administration job. This chapter provides another checklist of 14 different steps or things to consider and verify when doing a server upgrade. One of my favorite steps in the checklist (and also one of my personal preferences when it comes to working) is “Do the Upgrade with Someone Else Watching.” The thing about this book that is so unique is that the authors take the time to relate the benefits a second pair of eyes can bring to a given circumstance, including cross-pollination of methods to accomplish a goal.
A few weeks ago I was sitting with another systems administrator, and he executed a particularly cool
grep command on a set of log files. While I’m perfectly capable of coming up with something like that on my own, we often get set in our ways and use the same commands and methods that are most familiar to us. Stepping outside our own methods is always a good thing. You learn more.
Chapter 29: Web Services
It’s pretty difficult to deploy a service without some sort of web component associated with it. Chapter 29 discusses all things web services–everything from commentary on the benefits and drawbacks of both horizontal and vertical scaling to change control policies and handling production issues. However, my favorite part of this chapter in the “Icing” section: the discussion of the pros and cons of web outsourcing.
The key thing that I’d like you to take from this review is that this book really can help you become a better sysadmin, if for no other reason than it gives you a point of reference authored by folks who have been there and done that. It’s the kind of consistency and attention to detail that this book can teach you that separates a good systems administrator from a truly great one.