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Book Review: Networking For System Administrators 33

Saint Aardvark writes Michael W. Lucas has been writing technical books for a long time, drawing on his experience as both a system and a network administrator. He has mastered the art of making it both easy and enjoyable to inhale large amounts of information; that's my way of saying he writes books well and he's a funny guy. Networking for System Administrators, available both in DRM-free ebook and dead tree formats, is his latest book, and it's no exception to this trend. Keep reading for the rest of Saint Aardvark's review.
Networking for Systems Administrators
author Michael W. Lucas
pages 206
publisher Tilted Windmill Press
rating 9/10
reviewer Saint Aardvark
ISBN 0692376941
summary Explains networking to sysadmins - both juniors new to this career, and those who have been around for a while
Like the title suggests, this book explains networking to sysadmins — both juniors new to this career, and those who have been around for a while but don't understand how those network folks live or what they need to do their job. If you're one of the latter, you might think "Oh I've read 'TCP/IP Illustrated' — I don't need another networking book." And it's true that there is overlap between these two books. But Lucas also explains about how to work with network folks: dealing with areas of shared responsibility, how to understand where your side ends, and how to talk to a network admin so that everyone understands each other — and more importantly, is both able and happy to help the other. This is something that is out-of-scope for a network textbook, and it's valuable.

So what's in this book? Lucas takes us through all the network layers, explaining how everything fits together. From physical ("If you can trip over it, snag it, break the stupid tab off the plastic connector at its end, or broadcast static over it, it's the physical layer.") to transport and application, he shows practical examples of how the OSI model maps (or doesn't) to the world of TCP/IP. He shows the happy path and the sad path at each layer, explaining how to understand what's going on and troubleshooting failures. This is the part with the strongest overlap with those other network textbooks. If system administration is a side gig (maybe you're a developer who has to maintain your own server), you'll have enough in this book to deal with just about anything you're likely to trip over. But if you're early in your sysadmin career, or you find yourself making the jump to Ops, you will want to follow it up with TCP/IP Illustrated for the additional depth.

Since you'll be troubleshooting, you'll need to know the tools that let you dump DNS, peer into packets, and list what's listening (or not) on the network. Lucas covers Linux and Unix, of course, but he also covers Windows — particularly handy if, like me, you've stuck to one side over the course of your career. Tcpdump/Windump, arp, netstat, netcat and ifconfig are all covered here, but more importantly you'll also learn how to understand what they tell you, and how to relay that information to network administrators.

That thought leads to the final chapter of this book: a plea for working as a team, even when you're not on the same team. Bad things come from network and systems folks not understanding each other. Good things — happy workplaces, successful careers, thriving companies and new friends — can come from something as simple as saying "Well, I don't know if it is the network's fault...why don't we test and find out?"

After reading this book, you'll have a strong footing in networking. Lucas explains concepts in practical ways; he makes sure to teach tools in both Unix/Linux and Windows; and he gives you the terms you'll use to explain what you're seeing to the network folks. Along the way there's a lot of hard-won knowledge sprinkled throughout (leave autonegotiation on — it's a lot better than it used to be; replace cables if there's any hint of flakiness in a server's network connection) that, for me at least (and be honest, you too) would have saved a lot of time over the years.

Who would I recommend this book to?
  • If you're a sysadmin at the beginning of your career, this book is an excellent beginning; take it, read it, and build on it — both with practical experience and further reading.
  • If you're coming into system administration the back way (as a developer who has to manage their own server, say, or who shares responsibility for a networked service with other admins), I can't think of a better single source for the practical knowledge you need. You'll gain an understanding of what's going on under the hood, how to diagnose problems you encounter, and how to talk to either system or network administrators about fixing those problems.
  • If you're a manager or senior sysadmin, buy this book and read it through before handing it to the juniors on your team, or that dev who keeps asking questions about routing and the firewall; you may learn a few things, and it's always good to read fine technical writing.

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Book Review: Networking For System Administrators

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  • How many times .... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Monday April 13, 2015 @02:41PM (#49464939)

    If there really is a "network problem" then it won't be just your machine that cannot connect to some other machine.

    It would be lots of people and/or machines that would not be able to talk to lots of other machines and/or people.

    And the network rarely experiences "problems" that only show up after you've applied a patch.

    Bad things come from network and systems folks not understanding each other.

    As a network engineer, I can quote almost EXACTLY what the sysadmin will say. Understanding them is easy.

    Communicating something they do not want to hear is the issue.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      except for when the router/firewall rules have been changed and the network guys told no one ahead of time. Oops, you were using that Port? not our fault.
      Seen that too often.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If there really is a "network problem" then it won't be just your machine that cannot connect to some other machine.

      Sure, if your network is just a couple of dumb switches and a single rule "Drop Inbound" firewall, but if that's the case you probably don't even have a Network Administrator to talk to. But if your network has dozens of VLANs, multiple gateways and complex firewall rules, it very well could be a network issue that so far only you have experienced. Sure, the problem is probably not Machine X can't connect to Machine Y, and more likely to be VLAN 17 can't initiate a connection to VLAN 56 over port 8080, bu

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by khasim ( 1285 )

        Sure, the problem is probably not Machine X can't connect to Machine Y, and more likely to be VLAN 17 can't initiate a connection to VLAN 56 over port 8080, but maybe you're the only one at your company who needs to make that particular connection at that time.

        And you call it in and the network engineer will ask some questions:

        a1. Has this ever worked in the past? (they will always answer "yes")
        a2. When was the last time you know it was working? (50% "yesterday" 50% "last week")
        a3. Has anything changed on t

        • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

          Yea, a1 is the one that's probably the most annoying. I get regular (daily) data from this server. I have monitoring agents in place to notify me if the system goes off line or even has a bad afternoon.

          "Has this ever worked?"

          Are you fucking kidding me? Here are the tcpdumps from the system showing the packet loss. Here's the output of ifconfig showing the interface as down. Here's ethtools showing no link. Here are the configuration files from yesterday showing it was on line yesterday. Here is the monthly

    • If there really is a "network problem" then it won't be just your machine that cannot connect to some other machine.

      It certainly can be. There's a lot of "if you can trip over it" stuff between some of the systems I administer and the network they connect to.

      I've had a wonderful fiber to cat5 converter that decided it would not pass any packets larger than about 128 bytes. Ping worked great. You could initiate all kinds of TCP connections, like the initial SSH handshaking. It was fascinating to see how the network reacted to different ping packet sizes while tracking this down. Make them small enough, the destination w

  • Why would you need a book? Just read the TCP/IP Kernel code for open-source operating systems.

    I especially liked reading the the TCP code in OS/X which had been modified from the code of the early 90s and helpfully preserved the now wildly inaccurate original comments in case you felt the need to explore what it would really feel like to drink a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.

  • Like saying "programming for programmers".
    • No, like "writing compilers for programmers". System administration is a different job than network administration, even though the person doing the jobs may be the same and the responsibilities overlap.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Inhaling large amounts of information? Do you get high? I've huffed kittens, and glue, but never information. If I had a book, I'd try doing it right now. But after huffing the glue, my mind is fried. I only see sounds now.

  • Subneting made easy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CycloneGT ( 3716551 ) on Monday April 13, 2015 @03:50PM (#49465367)
    Everyone should learn how to subnet. I was working tech support that mostly included unix admin activities. Then they told me to get my CCNA. Glad I did. Just the simple act of learning how to subnet ip addressing has made all of the difference in the world. Its kind of like learning the alphabet, it just make so many other things easier.
    • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

      Yea, got my CCNA and CCNP over 10 years ago and it's really been a benefit in general networking knowledge. Same with starting off 35 years ago as a programmer. Programming and networking really helps in being a sysadmin.


    • by skids ( 119237 )

      Skip the CCNA and just read some topical books. I've been working networks my entire career and every time I crack a CCNA book, I get 2 chapters in and decide to go read something that is actually useful instead. Most of the things CIsco seems to think every network admin needs to know are job-specific skillsets you'll probably never use and can be picked up when and if they are needed as long as you've put in your time. Or whatever flavor of the month monstrosity they are pushing on their customer base

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court