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The Practice of System and Network Administration, Second Edition Paperback – July 15, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0321492661 ISBN-10: 0321492668 Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1056 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 2 edition (July 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0321492668
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321492661
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 2.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #252,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Thomas A. Limoncelli is a noted system and network administrator employed at Google. He speaks at conferences worldwide on a variety of topics.

Christina J. Hogan has more than ten years' system administration experience. She now works at the BMW Sauber F1 team as an aerodynamicist.

Strata R. Chalup is a twenty-year veteran of system administration and technical project management. She is the founder of Virtual.Net, Inc.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Our goal for this book has been to write down everything we've learned from our mentors and to add our real-world experiences. These things are beyond what the manuals and the usual system administration books teach.

This book was born from our experiences as SAs in a variety of organizations. We have started new 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 midsize and large multinationals, where mergers and spin-offs gave rise to strange challenges. We have worked at fast-paced companies that do business on the Internet and where high-availability, high performance, and scaling issues were the norm. We've worked at slow-paced companies at which high tech meant cordless phones. On the surface, these are very different environments with diverse challenges; underneath, they have 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 narrow how-to solutions to particular problems. Given a solid framework, you can solve problems every time they appear, regardless of the operating system (OS), brand of computer, or type of environment. This book is unique because it looks at system administration from this holistic point of view; whereas most other books for SAs focus on how to maintain one particular product. 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.

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. Where we felt that it might not be obvious how to implement certain concepts, we have included sections that illustrate how to apply the principles at organizations of various sizes.

This book is not about how to configure or debug a particular OS and will not tell you how to recover the shared libraries or DLLs when someone accidentally moves them. Some excellent books cover those topics, and we refer you to many of them throughout. Instead, we discuss the principles, both basic and advanced, of good system administration 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 customers 1 will be unhappy because they can't work effectively with broken machines.

Who Should Read This Book

This book is written for system administrators at all levels. 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 their sites and make their jobs easier and their customers happier. Whatever level you are at, this book 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 those of our colleagues, just as we have learned from each other in writing this book. We also cover several management topics for SA trying to understand their managers, for SAs who aspire to move into management, and for SAs finding themselves doing more and more management without the benefit of the title.

Throughout the book, we use examples to illustrate our points. 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; where they are OS-specific, it is 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, we eventually 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 lets us master the new challenges more easily.

We want this book to change your life. We want you to become so successful that if you see us on the street, you'll give us a great big hug.

Basic Principles

If we've learned anything over the years, it is the importance of simplicity, clarity, generality, automation, communication, and doing the basics first. These six principles are recurring themes in this book.

  1. 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 component interactions that can cause debugging nightmares.
  2. Clarity means that the solution is straightforward. 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. In the system administration world, it's better to write five lines of understandable code than one line that's incomprehensible to anyone else.
  3. Generality means that the solutions aren't inherently limited to a particular case. Solutions can be reused. Using vendor-independent open standard protocols makes systems more flexible and makes it easier to link software packages together for better services.
  4. Automation means using software to replace human effort. Automation is critical. Automation improves repeatability and scalability, is key to easing the system administration burden, and eliminates tedious repetitive tasks, giving SAs more time to improve services.
  5. Communication between the right people can solve more problems than hardware or software can. 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. Documentation makes systems easier to support, 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.
  6. 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 makes services more robust. A good basic infrastructure can be repeatedly leveraged to improve the site with relatively little effort. Sometimes, we see SAs 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 a site, all protocols used, all software, and all services provided. They apply at universities, nonprofit institutions, government sites, businesses, and Internet service sites.

What Is an SA?

If you asked six system administrators to define their jobs, you would get seven different answers. The job is difficult to define because system administrators do so many things. An SA looks 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 influences how effectively other people can or do use their computers and networks.

A system administrator sometimes needs to be a business-process consultant, corporate visionary, janitor, software engineer, electrical engineer, economist, psychiatrist, mindreader, and, occasionally, a bartender.

As a result, companies calls SAs different names. Sometimes, they are called network administrators, system architects, system engineers, system programmers, operators and so on.

This book is for "all of the above."

We have a very general definition of system administrator: one who manages computer and network systems on behalf of another, such as an employer or a client. SAs are the people who make things work and keep it all running.

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 Hogan'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...

More About the Authors

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Customer Reviews

This book has great insight into the field.
This book is about how to become a professional system administrator.
Scott Cromar
This book is great and has a lot of knowledge in it.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By D. Granja on February 14, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this based on the positive Amazon reviews. I am an experienced system administrator and IT Manager and my intent as a reader was to help me assess my own practices and give insight into things I hadn't considered or had overlooked. I would say if you have significant real world experience then this book isn't for you. However, if you are newer to the field and want to get an idea of the type of things systems/network administrators work with, then I don't think I've seen any other book that covers as much ground, nor that does it in a more friendly manner. It's very general so just don't consider the information to be authoritative or to offer you tools that you'd use in the work place after getting some years of experience in the field.

I actually found it very hard to review this book. Based on their "resumes", the authors have extensive industry knowledge and perspectives. The frustrating thing is that it doesn't come out in this book. There is no real in-depth look at different options or methodologies, nor do areas of discussion seem comprehensive by any measure. I kept asking myself, "Where's the meat?". True, at times there are actually solid recommendations and new ideas, but it just isn't the nature of the book.

On the other hand, when I looked at it as an introduction to the career of system/network administration, I had to admit that the friendly and approachable tone is refreshing and appropriate. The ambition of its scope is laudable. I see it as a high school "overview of this career" book, but written for an older audience. If you are that audience, then this book will be helpful to get you started, and I think you will appreciate it. However, after a few years in the field when you come back to this book you may find that you have outgrown it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. Edmondson on July 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
At first, I thought that this book might be too basic but that is not the case. It explains how to build and maintain a computer network - servers, workstations, network devices - and explains how to make decisions based on your requirements, not just how to make things work. Making things work is very important. But to be a world-class network administrator, you've got to understand how to make decisions, and how to weigh options. This fabulous book takes you into the problem solving, decision making minds of two experienced administrators. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to go past twiddling configurations into the realm of building a useable, stable, maintainable enterprise network. System administration books tend to focus on how to accomplish particular, important tasks - along with providing background information on computers, networks, and services. Those books are tremendously valuable, because they centralize information and often explain system details that documentation leaves out.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on September 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
The first edition of PRACTICE OF SYSTEM AND NETWORK ADMINISTRATION covers modern IT methodology, and this updated second edition provides a revision of four major areas of knowledge relating to system administration, reviewing key elements of successful network systems, how to build and run reliable services, building data centers and addressing security issues, and more. It's a top pick for any library serious about catering to advanced web programmers, computer professionals, and students of network administration - as well as for practicing administrators.

Diane C. Donovan
California Bookwatch
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All on February 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is wonderful, and my personal favorite, beating out even the legendary 'Unix and Linux System Administration Handbook'

Don't get me wrong, you really need to read both, and 'Time Management for System Administrators' while you're at it, but this book is far more about a high-level overview of how and why to build a good SA team and methodology behind offering services *in a way that is useful to the business*, rather than just what MTA to use, for example.

This book covers "what do I call my servers", and so many other boring things you're going to overlook until it's far too late. It is geared more at office sysadmins than datacenter sysadmins (what I do), but in my experience, there is so much you can get from this as a datacenter sysadmin as well.

In my mind, this is the sort of stuff that separates a junior sysadmin from a midlevel sysadmin - a junior sysadmin can sit down and give you a long, nuanced, and extremely passionate overview of nginx vs apache... yet they probably don't have a very good server inventory or monitoring, just some minor stuff.

And then there's extremely junior SAs... you know, the rockstars. Documentation? Man, they don't write something unless it's untested code in some language that was invented last week and is trending on Reddit and is going to run at 80 million connections a second from the minute you start it up until the minute it forkbombs the server off the net. Which is only five minutes later, but they won't have the monitoring or profiling to know that. Rockstars don't *need* monitoring, and they certainly don't need an inventory or documentation.

Businesses do though, and eventually they get tired of their production environment looking like a rockstar's used and abused hotel room.

Reading this book is the first step to recovery.
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