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Chapter 1. The Philosophy of System Administration

Although the specifics of being a system administrator may change from platform to platform, there are underlying themes that do not. These themes make up the philosophy of system administration.

The themes are:

  • Automate everything

  • Document everything

  • Communicate as much as possible

  • Know your resources

  • Know your users

  • Know your business

  • Security cannot be an afterthought

  • Plan ahead

  • Expect the unexpected

The following sections explore each theme in more detail.

1.1. Automate Everything

Most system administrators are outnumbered — either by their users, their systems, or both. In many cases, automation is the only way to keep up. In general, anything done more than once should be examined as a possible candidate for automation.

Here are some commonly automated tasks:

  • Free disk space checking and reporting

  • Backups

  • System performance data collection

  • User account maintenance (creation, deletion, etc.)

  • Business-specific functions (pushing new data to a Web server, running monthly/quarterly/yearly reports, etc.)

This list is by no means complete; the functions automated by system administrators are only limited by an administrator's willingness to write the necessary scripts. In this case, being lazy (and making the computer do more of the mundane work) is actually a good thing.

Automation also gives users the extra benefit of greater predictability and consistency of service.


Keep in mind that if you have a task that should be automated, it is likely that you are not the first system administrator to have that need. Here is where the benefits of open source software really shine — you may be able to leverage someone else's work to automate the manual procedure that is currently eating up your time. So always make sure you search the Web before writing anything more complex than a small Perl script.

  Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License Design by Interspire