X-47 Industries

Exploring tools and infrastructure for systems administration.

The Wide World of Tools

There’s a long list of technologies operations staff have to know. Networking, storage, web-servers, email, DNS, kernels, monitoring: this list is far from complete. This is a formidable list, and enough to keep anyone busy, but, let’s take a moment to look in some other corners; there, we’ll find other topics that will well reward the investment of study.

You probably already know a programming language (more likely, multiple languages) but why invest time here? Automation is a great reason to learn Bash, Powershell, or Python. Being able to encapsulate common remediation steps into a repeatable formula means never having to worry about a problem again. Atop that, serious study of a programming language will reward you with some insight into how larger applications are constructed. This aids you when applications inevitably fail, and you’re the one who has to figure out why.

Pay attention to shell you’re in and the tools it offers. In linux, a knowledge of readline will have you more efficiently navigating the command line. Vi, with its near universal availability, offers powerful editing capabilities. Finally, openssh, is not just a mechanism for reaching servers, it offers interesting and fun capabilities for accessing remote ports and redirecting traffic.

Finally, pay attention to diagnostics. The chaos of a broken production system is not the best time for learning how things work. You’re unlikely to get a clear picture, and too, you’re often motivated to fix things as quickly as possible. Rather, explore diagnostic tools like lsof and others before the fact; learn the wide range in which they can be used.

We started off acknowledging a formidable list of concepts to know. If I’ve done my job, you’ve added an item or two to follow-up on. However, a word of warning before you do: treat these all as seasonings — add a little at a time. Vi, itself is Turing complete, so don’t try and learn it all at once. Start with one or two little snippets, and every other week or so, learn one or two more. This cuts down on the overload, but also deepens the learning.

There’s plenty going on in an admin’s life. In the hustle and bustle, it’s easy to just focus on the task directly in front of you. However, periodically take a moment to look up, investigate the wider system you habitat; getting comfortable with these other tools makes life easier.