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Automating Unix and Linux Administration

  • Kirk Bauer
  • Apress
  • 1590592123

I'd never heard of Apress publishing before, but they sent me this book to review and I'm very glad they did.

When I first pick up any technical book, I flip to some random points to see first if I'll find something I didn't already know, and secondly whether whatever I do find is explained well. This book scored high on both tests.

The recommended audience is shown as "Intermediate-Advanced" and I would agree with that 100%. This isn't a book for rank beginners; it assumes that you "know a thing or two about system administration". Some other reviewers have been critical of its Linux focus, which might have some merit, but on the other hand if you do "know a thing or two" you shouldn't have a problem translating the ideas to any other Unix. It is strongly Linux oriented, though there are mentions of things like Solaris patches. It is also oriented toward maintaining multiple systems, but nowadays even home users often have more than one computer. I think what that reviewer missed here is that Kirk is really presenting concepts - any competent admin should be able to make use of them on any Unix system.

Of course it is impossible to cover every aspect of administration in depth. One reviewer complains that Kirk doesn't give enough examples of alternate tools. Well, that's a shifting playing field anyway, and we all know that Google is your pal there. Kirk points out a few common things (Amanda for backups, Nagios for monitoring, etc.) but of course doesn't list everything possible - this would be an encyclopedia if he did!

Yet another reviewer complained that Kirk's writing style put him to sleep. I didn't find that to be the case at all. OK, it might put my wife to sleep, but she doesn't administer Unix and Linux systems. But isn't that the point anyway? Without automation, system administration IS boring, repetitive work. Automation frees us from that pain. If you don't have system administration problems (or don't realize that you do), then sure, this could be a "boring" book. But for a person who really has to be responsible for this kind of work, it definitely is not.

I found this to be very readable, enjoyable, and useful. Amazon currently rates it at only two stars, but I'd give it much better than that. I suspect that the problem here is that this is NOT a particularly useful book for the single system Linux user. Even those with a small handful of systems to maintain may not fully appreciate this. Administrators of larger networks will find this much more relevant to their work.

Tony Lawrence 2004/12/04 Rating: 4.5

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© Tony Lawrence

---December 23, 2004

I just received my copy, and did my usual quick scan when I get a new book. I agree with Tony, this is a great find! There are many useful scripts, with well written comments. Although I have just scanned the book, I have already written down some ideas for the networks I manage. This looks to be a fun read over the long holiday weekend. I hope I am able to copy and paste some of this code from their website :-)

I also like the way the author uses both Perl, and shell scripts (mostly bash from what I have seen so far). Basically, he uses the best tool for the job. I was reading one section on configuring the dhcpd.conf file, and he explains how awkward (pun intended) things can get with a shell script, so he uses perl for that example. I do the same thing when I write scripts. If things start getting crazy in shell, I turn to Perl, and things are much neater, and easier. For some jobs, Perl is overkill, so a simple shell script is the answer.

All in all, I would give it a 4.5 out of 5. Unless something really changes my mind after I dig deeper, this book looks like a real useful addition to any *nix administrators bookshelf.


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