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Top 10 System Administrator Truths

I figure with enough time and effort, anyone could be a system administrator. Really, it's not hard -- it just takes practice, methodology, and trial and error. A lot of trial and error. These truths will certainly get you on your way. Let's get started.

#1 - Users Lie

Oh yes, they do. Don't think you're immune either. Have you ever been on a tech support call, convinced that you know the problem, and the guy on the phone says something like "Would you put in the recovery CD, restart, and scan your memory?" "Oh, I've tried that," you say with eyes rolling. Believe it or not, sometimes we crazy admin peeps suggest these fixes because they work. When a user protests my assessment, I politely insist that they do what I asked until the doing is done.

#2 - Email Is the Lifeblood of Non-Techies

I love my non-techie brethren -- I mean, how else would I know what happened on the OC and Gilmore Girls? -- but at the end of the day, email is #1 in their book. Now a lot of it is business related, and certainly that shouldn't be taken lightly, but most likely they were waiting on a warm, fuzzy message from their daughter or sister and really needed their email back up ASAP ("I'm waiting on a proposal!" they screech -- see #1).

#3 - Printers Are Bad

Ever had to clean a laser or, God forbid, an inkjet printer? It's like stabbing yourself in the eye. It's not just the grime either -- it's the fallacy that a little chunk of ink could make the machine just stop working. Ninety percent of the time (or better), this isn't the case (instead, check the fuser/print heads).

#4 - Cleanliness Is Godliness

Ever open up a PC and see the Ghost of Dust Bunnies Past in there? It's scary stuff, I tell you. I've seen some PCs begin to lock up "for absolutely no reason" while the innards tell you something different. Sure, Peggy in Accounting wasn't stuffing her machine full of cloth, but that blanket she keeps at her feet will slowly shed and the PC fans suck that stuff right up. When you're completely stumped, make sure there isn't something inside gunking up the works.

#5 - Backups Are Crucial

This needs to be said. I've been caught unprepared on this one a few times myself. Backup, Backup, Backup! Nothing (and I mean nothing) will bite you like a poor backup schema. If your server dies right now as you read this post, what are you going to do about it? Do you know where the install discs are, do you have a configuration backup, and do you know who to contact regarding tech support on that box? If not, you need to get your act together before you have a disaster and a lot of excuses and apologies following it.

#6 - Switches and Hubs (Usually) Die One Port at a Time

You can spend hours tracking down a bad network card or cable just to figure out that a port in a switch has died. You're pinging and pinging and looking; the lights are on but nobody's home. The trick here is to know that a single port doesn't spell the end of the hardware; quite the contrary. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. If a port does go out, that hub or switch may work for years without another outage, but do be sure to stuff an RJ45 connector in that bad port so you don't forget (and chase down phantom problems) in the future.

#7 - No One Ever Got Fired for Buying Microsoft

So sad but so true. This old saying used to reference IBM, but oh how times have changed. Linux may be powerful, but the command prompt and configuration files and file system obscurity will just as soon get you a pink slip if something goes wrong and no one knows how to fix it but you. Even so, with as much stupidity as we admins have to put up with on a daily basis, configuring some of the "high-end" Microsoft software is enough to drive you insane. Ever tried installing Exchange Server or, worse, installing Exchange Server and migrating a 5.5 install to Exchange 2000? I feel your pain -- oh, how I feel your pain.

#8 - Politeness > Brevity

You can come up with all sorts of analogies for this one. You'll get more bees with honey, a spoonful of sugar, etc. But generally, you probably have very little day-to-day contact with end users. This means that when you do finally get to speak to one of those souls fortunate enough to login to your domain (both figuratively and literally), you should be sure to be as polite as possible about it. Even if the network is down. Even if the server is having weird, irrational problems. Use please, thank you, I'm sorry, and don't be too proud to apologize or "make nice" with those who may ultimately influence your career path down the line. The peon you insult today with "I sent an email about this; do you not check your own email?" could very well climb the corporate ladder and let you go in a few years. Mind your manners, peeps.

#9 - Know Your Needs

This one could also be called "Learn Linux." Many admins get wooed into the idea that "managed solutions" are always the correct ones. A web interface on a switch is cute, but rarely useful. A huge Cisco router may not always be necessary; sometimes a "lo-fi" approach is best. When you want a spam solution, before looking at $5,000 servers and huge licensing fees for Windows Server software, take a look at one of those old "junk" PCs you have in the closet, download your favorite distro of Linux, and install procmail and spamassassin. You (and your budget) will thank me later.

#10 - The Holy Grail of Tech Support

…is the reboot. Rebooting can cure ailments of all sorts: it can stop network troubles and crashing computers, find missing documents, and rescue cats in trees. System admins all over the world have, by and large, trained their users to reboot before even calling support. I mean, when's the last time you didn't reboot to see if it cured a problem? If you're not, then you're either stubborn or you're an admin who knows better. Rebooting doesn't cure all ailments, but it cures so many of them that it's hard to not throw out a "Can you reboot for me?" to the end user when they call with some off-the-wall issue. Use and abuse as necessary.

Written by Evan Erwin, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, United States

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Category : Computer Contributor : n/a

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