10 open source tools for your sysadmin toolbox

We've rounded up a handy list of open source tools for admins.
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10 open source tools for your sysadmin toolbox


Sysadmins, no matter what platforms they work on, are awash in great open source software tools. In this article, we highlight well-known—and not-so-well-known—tools that have released new versions in 2016.

Windows subsystem for Linux

"Microsoft loves Linux" has been a constant refrain from Redmond lately. With the announcement of the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) in the spring, this sentiment has become evident in a way never before seen. More than just an emulation layer, WSL allows Windows users to run a real Ubuntu userspace. This includes the bash shell and utilities like sed, awk, and grep. Linux sysadmins who have to parse log files occasionally on Windows servers will love this feature.

PowerShell for Linux

Of course, some sysadmins primarily work on Windows and have to switch to Linux occasionally. To help those folks, Microsoft dropped another bomb over the summer: PowerShell is now open source (under the MIT license) and ported to Linux. With these two announcements, will we remember 2016 as the year the long-standing battle between Microsoft and open source communities finally came to a complete and total end?


Just because the Windows/Linux battle has been laid to rest, that doesn't mean the editor wars are over, too. The venerable Vim editor, which celebrated its 25th birthday in November, is still under active development. This year saw the release of version 8, the first major release in a decade. Vim 8 brings features such as support for GTK+ 3 and DirectX, asynchronous I/O for plugins, and jobs.


Versioning is important for your scripts, your text files, and of course your infrastructure-as-code. The Git version control system release version 2.10, which comes with a slew of handy new features. New color controls allow, for example, git diff output to strikethrough removed lines. Improved GPG signing for tags and commits is included, too. Pushes now show progress for remote post-receive operations. And for those forward-thinking users, the internal date formatting can now handle dates beyond the year 2100.


Git is nice on its own, but it's even better with a workflow system. GitLab released version 8.11 this summer, which includes a killer feature: Issue boards. Now issues can be visually tracked on a Kanban-style system native to GitLab. This is great for planning your infrastructure sprints without having to rely on an external tool. The other major feature in 8.11 is the ability to manage and resolve basic merge errors directly from the GitLab web interface.


Computers are cruel, and they sometimes wind up in a bad state to torment their sysadmins. Many sysadmins carry a CD or USB disk with tools that help recover those machines. SystemRescueCD is an actively developed toolset for those cases. A regular Swiss Army knife, SystemRescueCD is a bootable Linux distribution with tools for testing hardware, partitioning drives, and recovering data. Versions 4.8 and 4.9 were released in 2016, bringing updates to a variety of components, including updated filesystem tools for the ext family and BTRFS.


Sometimes the best thing to do is to reimage a machine. Clonezilla is the de facto standard for deploying disk images. The latest release adds support for detecting volumes encrypted with Windows bitlocker. A number of point releases over the past year have kept Clonezilla tightly tracked to the upstream Debian distribution and improved EFI support, along with a wide array of bug fixes.


Docker continued with its active container technology development in 2016. Docker 1.12 added swarm mode: A way to manage a self-healing, self-organizing group. In order to provide this, a health check mechanism was added. This framework allows for service-aware determination of when a container is healthy. Another noteworthy event was the announcement that Docker containers could run natively on Windows as part of a partnership between Docker and Microsoft that provides enterprise support for Docker on Windows.


Speaking of containers, Kubernetes 1.4 added more container management features in 2016. Clusters can now be created with only two commands. A dashboard UI provides 90% feature parity with the command-line tools for easier reporting and quick status awareness. Packaging improvement mean that sysadmins can install Kubernetes with their favorite package managers, such as yum and apt-get.


Early this summer, a group of ownCloud developers (including a co-founder) forked the project to create Nextcloud. Less than two weeks later, they published their first major release. Nextcloud 10 is the second release since the fork and contains many new features. A new app allows for managing file retention policies. Improvements to the authentication system allow for automatic revocation of users with disabled LDAP accounts, user session revocation, a two-factor authentication plugin system and more.

Did we leave your favorite open source tool for sysadmins off the list? Tell us about it in the comments.

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Ben Cotton is a meteorologist by training, but weather makes a great hobby. Ben works as the Fedora Program Manager at Red Hat. He is the author of Program Management for Open Source Projects. Find him on Twitter (@FunnelFiasco) or at FunnelFiasco.com.


Great article Ben! I'm glad you wrote about NextCloud. It's just the right solution for one of my clients. I had forgotten about it. I had also forgotten about SystemRescueCD, another great tool.

I'm glad it was helpful, Don. It's always interesting to see what comes up when I'm preparing this article. There are so many great projects out there.

In reply to by Don Watkins

Thanks for the link; the timing always seems to work out that way. Thanks for the correction on the founder semantics, too. I wasn't quite sure, so I hedged a little bit. :-)

In reply to by jospoortvliet

Yes, great article. Thanks.

Thanks for reading! I'm glad this article was enjoyable for you.

In reply to by fortran (not verified)

wSL? We've had Cygwin for decades. How about pointing out why we should care about wSL other than the fact that it is blessed by johnny-come-lately? What elevates it over Cygwin?

Thanks for reading. This would make a great article in its own right, but the short answer is that WSL allows for unmodified Linux binaries to be run, whereas Cygwin doesn't.

In reply to by Nope (not verified)

My favourite that's not on the list would be the Open Source Puppet. I cannot imagine my sysadmin life without it.

Vim, vim, vim! Nano (Pico) for me and I'm not afraid to admit it. Lol $ man nano

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