February 2013 Issue of Linux Journal: System Administration

Digital Duct Tape

I've had enough system administration jobs to know that companies tend to take drastically different approaches to how they handle technology. Some companies budget extensively for their server infrastructures, and others have old workstations with box fans cooling them for servers. Whatever the server room looks like, things inevitably go wrong, and it's the job of the sysadmin to save the day. Sometimes that means a quick hack to get things going temporarily, and sometimes it means elaborate planning and scheduling for maintenance and replacement. That's the thing about system administration—you have to think on your feet and come up with solutions on the fly. It can be exciting, terrifying, stressful and rewarding, all at the same time.

This is our system administration issue, which always is one of my favorites. Rather than diving right into the sysadmin stuff though, Reuven M. Lerner starts things off with SQLAlchemy, which acts as a bridge for your Python objects to "talk" to an SQL database. It's a powerful Python module, and if you're using Python with an SQL back end, you'll want to check it out. Dave Taylor, on the other hand, continues his series on creating a shell script to play Cribbage. Dave has a great way of tricking us all into learning things by using fun objectives. We certainly don't mind.

Remember when I said that Kyle Rankin got me started with Raspberry Pi hacking? This month he covers setting up the smallest colocated server you'll probably ever see. Kyle has a Raspberry Pi sitting in a data center rack in Austria, and he walks through preparing the little server for remote-only administration. Because the RPi lacks many of the features server-class machines usually have, a lot of planning goes into the preparation. Even if you don't plan to set up a Raspberry Pi server, it's a great article.

My column this issue hits much closer to home. If you have a fancy new Android tablet, but you're struggling to use is as much as you'd like, you're not alone. This month I tackle my Nexus 7. At first I struggled to do much more than play Angry Birds with mine, but after a lot of effort, my tablet is a useful tool at work as well as a fancy toy. Those of you struggling to find their tablet's niche may benefit from my experiences.

Jeramiah Bowling addresses virtualization this month. Using ConVirt, he shows how to manage multiple virtualization architectures with a single tool. If you want to manage Xen and KVM side by side, it's worth checking out. In fact, with the paid version of the program, it's even possible to manage VMware hosts! Having the ability to look at different virtualization back ends with the same client makes comparing performance much easier.

System administrators like things to be easier, and so this month, Adrian Hannah teaches how to use Fabric, which is a tool for administering dozens of machines simultaneously. Whether you want to remove files from your entire server farm or install a package with its dependencies on a whole rack of servers, Fabric can make it a one-step process.

Andrew Fabbro and Aaron Peters both describe how to make Linux play well with others. They have drastically different takes on the subject, however. Andrew walks through the steps of getting Linux up and running in Microsoft's Azure cloud. Why would a person want to do that? Well, for the same reason geeks do many things: because they can. Aaron, however, solves a problem we're all a little more familiar with, and that is how to connect your Android tablet with your Linux system. Although many tablets are unable to plug in to a system with USB for file access, there are many, many ways to connect with Android, and Aaron explores a bunch of them.

We tried to cover a wide variety of system administration topics this month, not just only the traditional geek-in-the-server-room scenarios. As technology infiltrates every aspect of our lives, even those folks without the slightest desire to manage a data center must have at least rudimentary administration skills in order to function. For those hard-core sysadmins out there, if you're anything like me, your bag of tricks is like Mary Poppins' bag—there's always room for more. We hope this issue will be as useful for you as it has been enjoyable for us to create. For now, I need to leave—there's a server somewhere that needs to be turned off and turned back on....

Available to Subscribers: February 1


Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.


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Anonymous's picture

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Ali Baba's picture

I would like to get subscription but 12 Digital issues for $29.50 is insane pricing.

Oddity with the poll

markdean's picture

Did anyone else find it odd that Ubuntu/Debian was as high as it was, 61%? And that Suse doesn't even rate anywhere (I don't run it, but I thought it was popular in the business world). In the business world for servers, good bad or indifferent, Red Hat owns the market share. Every company I've worked for and my colleagues work for have the same deal: if it is going to be production, you deploy RHEL with paid support, which makes the managers happy. Red Hat didn't get to be a billion dollar company by only holding a 24% market share, which means the poll is not representative of actual market share. It seems that many of Linux Journal readers may not be professional *nix SysAdmins. I say that for several reasons not the least of which is the poll number that almost half respondents only have 1 Linux host?? And, almost half use the GUI to administer their system(s)?? That means, unless they deploy Webmin (and that wasn't broken out in the poll), they are deploying X Windows on a server-a definite no-no in my world. All of that points to home server use or very small business user. And that's fine, those users wouldn't spend money on a RHEL subscription anyways. But it isn't representative of real world. I know that a lot of business use Suse for that reason. Also, if you run Oracle on Linux, you are more likely to run Oracle Linux (a RHEL clone) since doing so saves you a good chunk of change with processor licensing. Yet that wasn't anywhere in the poll. I was also interested that CentOS and/or Scientific Linux didn't rate anywhere. We use RHEL for production but CentOS for the development and test versions of the production system. Saves a boatload of money and since CentOS is a binary compatible clone, what works in test/dev will work on the production RHEL instance.

This is not to say that I don't have Ubuntu servers (or that *buntu servers aren't out in the business world), I do and they are. I just don't think it's anywhere near 61% the poll seems to indicate. I work for a medical collage with a research department and have many flavors of Linux and UNIX-even an old SCO box on an old Acer server (I didn't even know Acer had servers until I came here!). But the really big stuff, important stuff that causes a lot of problems if they go down, stuff that is under regulatory compliance rules are always on paid support, and even though Canonical offers paid support, so far, only Red Hat wins out for those types of systems. I know many companies that do the same, except run SLES with support.

Maybe on the next poll like this you can ask a question like: Do you use paid support for your servers and if so, which one do you use?

Anyone one else notice that? Or am I wrong about how much server share Red Hat really has? Or, since I've only worked for large companies with hundreds of Linux/UNIX systems, am I the oddity?