LJ Archive


Putting Out Fires and Designing Fire-Proof Buildings

Shawn Powers

Issue #251, March 2015

System administration is a very general term. It's our job to fix problems, repair systems and remind people to try power cycling their troubled desktops. We are also responsible for creating systems that don't develop problems, need fewer repairs and run without being power cycled. In an ideal world, system administrators would work themselves out of a job in short order. Thankfully (or unfortunately?), that's not how it goes. We always have problems to fix, and there's always a better way to do what we're doing. Thus, system administration is a vibrant and ever-changing field. This month, we learn how to be better at our jobs, even if the measure of “success” is constantly fluctuating.

Dave Taylor starts off this issue with a continuation of his script-based card game. Designing games with Dave is a great way to become better shell scripters, and so in a very real sense, we can justify playing games at work. Kyle Rankin follows Dave with a nerdier sort of game: trying to replace the proprietary BIOS on a ThinkPad with Libreboot. Coreboot is an open-source BIOS replacement, and Libreboot goes a step further by stripping out all the proprietary code. If you think having a free BIOS with built-in GRUB sounds interesting, you'll want to check out Kyle's column this month.

My personal contribution to the System Administration issue is something I find to be more useful than I ever expected. Android tablets are convenient for things like Wi-Fi sniffing, but they are often unwieldy to carry around. My solution is to convert a cheap pre-paid cell phone into a tiny, pocket-size tablet. If you already have an Android phone, it might be redundant, but for me, a $20 tablet was too hard to pass up. In my column, I give you all the details.

Puppet is an incredible tool for managing the system configurations of multiple nodes. Scott Lackey describes a great tool we can use to store site-specific data more efficiently (and securely). Hiera is a key/value lookup tool that integrates directly with Puppet and makes a great tool even better. If you want to have a clear separation between your sensitive data and the Puppet system that uses it, or if you want to save time by reusing common data, Hiera is a tool any Puppet admin will want to check out.

Jonas Gorauskas gives us a history of systemd. Whether you love the new initialization system, or think it's a terrible implementation of a horrible idea, systemd is here to stay—at least for a while. If you've ever been curious how we got from simple init scripts to SysV and beyond, you'll want to read Jonas' article. Once you understand systemd, Charles Fisher follows up with a great tutorial on using the new init system to create powerful and lightweight virtual containers utilizing systemd for initialization. For stubborn SysV lovers like myself, it's great to read some information on the advantages systemd might offer.

Doc Searls closes out our issue with a new look at the 15-year-old Cluetrain Manifesto. If you're a fan of the Locke, Levine, Weinberger and Searls project, you'll want to read what's happening with New Clues today.

If it weren't for the modern technological world we live in, system administration wouldn't even exist! Thankfully (or again, unfortunately?), our world is getting more and more technological every day. The need for system administrators and their tools are more in demand than ever before, and this issue of Linux Journal was written to educate, inform and even entertain those of us in the digital trenches. We hope you enjoy this issue as much as we enjoyed putting it together!

Shawn Powers is the Associate Editor for Linux Journal. He's also the Gadget Guy for LinuxJournal.com, and he has an interesting collection of vintage Garfield coffee mugs. Don't let his silly hairdo fool you, he's a pretty ordinary guy and can be reached via e-mail at info@linuxjournal.com. Or, swing by the #linuxjournal IRC channel on Freenode.net.

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