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Jack WoehrDespite sporting a title that sounds about as interesting as The Longest Checkers Games I Ever Saw, Thomas Limoncelli and Christine Hogan's The Practice of System and Network Administration is an exceptionally valuable book.
This book assumes you have the technical skills already. Now the authors are going to teach you how to use those technical skills, with an emphasis on reality bites. This makes for an entertaining read, as we are introduced to the Rioting Mob enterprise-wide desktop upgrade, the rule of No Changes On Friday, the value of Visible Presence the Next Day, rules for Shredding, and the heartburn of Dealing with Printer Abuse. And how could we have survived until now without knowing why data centers install their Power Down Units upside down?
So you don't get the wrong impression, this is not a book of humor. Nor, overall, is the book funny or witty. Ironic perhaps; this is a technical book for technical people, but when you're an administrator, the problem is always in the wetware, and let's face it, people are pretty funny. So it's no coincidence that the phrase "social engineering" recurs in the book like a leitmotif.
The greatest value of the book is Limoncelli and Hogan's breathtakingly comprehensive view of the playing field of system and network administration. They see how the puzzle pieces fit, from the cloud down to hand-holding with the end user. They are equally familiar with network security issues, fire suppression, rack mounts, and unmanageable management goals.
Some readers' favorite chapter might be the last, Chapter 31, "Firing System Administrators," a topic wherein end users and managers find much common ground, but that's probably not fair to administrators. I know, because I administer the Suns at work while my pal Paul administers the Linux and Windows boxes. Paul is a much better administrator: Although perhaps I understand the machines and software better than he does, he is more humane than I am. So are the authors of this book, who among their other hats wear one called Social Director and one called Mr. Break Time, both of whom flow with enough of the milk of human kindness to bear with the team member known as The Martyr.
What The Practice of System and Network Administration is really about is administering machines for people. Four of the authors' goals Simplicity, Clarity, Generality, and Automation are extensively applied to a wealth of technical problems, but woven through the treatment is their fifth goal - Communication.
Nonetheless, The Practice of System and Network Administration is not a feel-good book. It's a technical book of the first caliber, one properly scoped, carried out with first-rate writing, skillfully edited, well-designed, attractively bound, and typeset cleanly in LaTex style. Recommended reading for advanced administrators and those who would be if they could.