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Mike Riley

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Four Book Reviews

September 13, 2010

From time to time, I like to expand my computer technology reading beyond software development. This healthy exercise helps me understand and interact with the bigger picture. Large IT departments have numerous specializations and understanding what challenges lie beyond writing code eases communication between groups as well as forge synergies between the application creators and the rest of the IT community.The four titles I have read recently focus on network and system administration, roles I have played and continue to play whenever duty calls. Each of these titles do a good job of explaining the details and fortunately require no deep background experience to understand their content. Let's take a look at each.

Network Flow Analysis Author Michael Lucas is an author whose work I appreciate and enjoy reading. His realization of life in the real-world of IT is refreshing, since he honestly present the scenarios beyond textbook situations. Network Flow Analysis is is written in the same style as his previous book, Cisco Routers for the Desperate, a book I reviewed years ago.

Network Flow Analysis walks through the process of isolating and identifying network performance issues by analyzing the flow of packets from one location to another. While it is mostly a manual for the author's preferred network diagnostic toolkit, Flow-tools, its also an opportunity to see the world from a seasoned network administrator's perspective. Additionally, learning how to use Flow-tools will not only help resolve network communication issues but can also be used to help debug applications by determining bottlenecks. Developers can also leverage the data generated by Flow-tools to enhance their own network-enabled application performance metrics.

The book is a comparatively quick read and will come in handy when troubleshooting and analyzing network problems. Like Cisco Routers for the Despearte, Network Flow Analysis will remain on my reference bookshelf to assist when the need arises.

Title: Network Flow Analysis Author: Michael W. Lucas Publisher: No Starch Press ISBN: 978-1-59327-203-6 Pages: 224 Price: $39.95 US

UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook, 4th Edition This grand-daddy of Unix system administration books has been revised a fourth time and shows off its new colorful cover as an indicator that a new and improved edition has arrived.

This book has probably taught hundreds of thousands of Unix sysadmins over its twenty year publishing run. The latest edition recognizes the impact Linux has had on the server landscape and, as such, covers Ubuntu, openSUSE and Red Hat along with the usual AIX, HP-UX and Solaris. The information is richly detailed and comprehensive. Clocking in at over 1,300 pages, this book is also one of the largest Unix sysadmin books on the market today. I read the Ebook edition and am thankful that the book is in that format not only to cut down on weight but also giving me the ability to quickly locate keyword topics.

There's a reason why this book has been such a long selling staple on tech bookshelves - it's a winner, and this latest edition continues to solidify this top ranking for today's generation of *nix admins.

Title: UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook, 4th Edition Authors: Evi Nemeth, Garth Snyder, Trent R. Hein, Ben Whaley Publisher: Prentice Hall ISBN: 978-0-13-148005-6 Pages: 1344 Price: $53.99

LPI Linux Certification in a Nutshell, Third Edition After reading the UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook, O'Reilly's LPI Linux Certification in a Nutshell provided a good test of my comprehension and recollection of all things Linux. While I am not a huge advocate of certifications, I do recognize their value when the tests are more than just a marketing ploy to capture more money for their products. The Linux Professional Institute (www.lpi.org) is a non-profit organization intent on certifying Linux professionals to help further promote the open source benefits of free software. As such, I trust its certificate intent more than vendors offering their own certifications for a price.

The book covers both 101 and 102 exams, and while I don't plan on taking these exams any time soon, the questions range from cake walks to really challenging - sure to give even seasoned Linux veterans pause. Still, for those considering taking this test, I would strongly advise reading Prentice Hall's UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook first, live the life of a sysadmin applying this newfound knowledge in the real world, and then buying this book for its study guides and satisfying challenges. If you can consistently answer the questions correctly, the LPI certification may be a worthwhile and rewarding pursuit to consider.

Title: LPI Linux Certification in a Nutshell, Third Edition Authors: Adam Haeder, Stephen Addison Schneiter, Bruno Gomes Pessanha, James Stanger Publisher: O'Reilly Media ISBN: 978-0-596-80487-9 Pages: 528 Price: $49.99

Pro Python System Administration Lastly, Pro Python System Administration is a book that ties back into the realm of software developers. This book really shows off the versatility that Python has to offer. My engineering sensibilities tend to select this scripting language before calling upon the perl or ruby interpreter, and Pro Python System Administration shows why Python is as powerful as either of those languages while at the same time maintaining great readability and logical flow. While I respect the Perl hackers out there, my brain has been racked by crusty legacy Perl code projects that took way too long to decipher exactly what the code was doing. Ruby is a happy medium between Perl and Python, but its module library is still growing and hasn't yet matched the volume and diversity of Perl or Python (but it's definitely getting there, with RubyForge leading the way).

Pro Python System Administration shows off some pretty slick Python-constructed applications, ranging from collecting and analyzing Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) data to analyzing performance data with a little help from the NumPy library. Author Rytis Sileika definitely knows the language and how to interface it to systems management tasks. However, I couldn't help but wonder how much of these scripts have already been written and organized by others. Indeed, a fair portion of the book is already incorporated in Zenoss Core, an extensible Python-based 'community edition' system and network monitoring solution. Still, it's helpful to know the basics in case the need for highly customized monitoring, log parsing and traversal or RESTful/SOAP calls need to be instantiated and processed.

Overall, the book does a fine job of connecting the network and systems with code, and the knowledge imparted is useful for developers, network and system administrators alike.

Title: Pro Python System Administration Author: Rytis Sileika Publisher: Apress ISBN: 978-1-4302-2605-5 Pages: 416 Price: $49.99

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