Best of Sysadmin

5 must-read sysadmin articles from 2017

Take a look at's top 5 articles for system administrators from the past year.

Tools in a tool box
Image credits : 
Photo by Peter (CC BY-SA 2.0), modified by Rikki Endsley

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Choosing the "best of" anything is always challenging, and choosing's best sysadmin articles from 2017 is no exception. We had a lot of great articles this year, and it was fun and interesting to go back and read them. Eventually, I was able to narrow down the many choices to the five listed here.

The truth about sysadmins

Sysadmins are cool and unusual people; we have many interesting attributes that may make us seem antisocial, but it's really just that we are so focused on getting our work done. Paul English wrote a pair of excellent articles this year about the job of being a sysadmin, and "The truth about sysadmins" stands out for its excellent description of the challenges faced by sysadmins and the personality traits necessary to survive as a sysadmin.


Devotion to Duty comic

"Devotion to Duty," xkcdCC BY-NC 2.5

English points out some of the obvious and not-so-obvious attributes of a sysadmin; here are six that resonate with me.

  • Sysadmins are strangely focused
  • Sysadmins are on call
  • Sysadmins are invisible (the good ones)
  • Sysadmins and open source go hand in hand
  • Sysadmins are cool with constant change
  • Sysadmins can write code

If you think you want to be a sysadmin, read this article. It may help you decide what you want to be (or not) when you grow up.

20 Linux commands every sysadmin should know

Rosemary Wang lists 20 basic commands that can help sysadmins (and other folks) do some basic problem determination. Her emphasis on problem determination makes this list special; it adds context to the run-of-the mill "X commands you should learn today" article.

Most of the tools that Wang discusses are old favorites; common commands that we all should know and probably use frequently. If you do sysadmin tasks, whether you have that title or not, knowing these commands can get you on the right track when resolving problems.

Even though I have been around Linux and Unix for decades, I still learned some new things about a few of these commands. A couple, like json.tool and sestatus, are new to me. In this business, you never know what issue might crop up, and just knowing that those commands exist may help me solve a problem one day. This article is also a good read for anyone who wants to move into a sysadmin job.

Ops: It's everyone's job now

I am an old-school kind of guy. I am a sysadmin, and I operate under certain assumptions that have been considered sacrosanct. One of those assumptions is that you never test in production; and, oh, by the way, that job belongs to dev or test or someone else besides us sysadmins.

Charity—yep, one name only—blows holes in all that old crap. I am now an "operations engineer" (but no one has ever called me that to my face), and I must test in production. And the dev folks should share in the on-call rotation. Oooh, yeah! I like that one. This no-holds-barred article challenges so much about being a sysadmin—er, ops engineer—that my meatware CPU went into a tight loop and almost had a meltdown. The dev folks are melting down, too, so it evens out.

The point here is that dev and ops really have to become the single entity implied by DevOps in order to cope as we enter the next distributed computing revolution. That means more than just working together. It means that DevOps is a single job, and we all have to know both operations and development.

Top 7 open source terminal emulators for Linux

Of the many tools sysadmins use, the most important—the one that all sysadmins use—is a terminal emulator. You cannot be a sysadmin unless you have one (and usually many) open at all times on your desktop.

In October, Jason Baker updated his 2015 article on open source terminal emulators. It looks at the seven emulators Baker thinks are tops, as well as 11 others that drew his attention in one way or another. These terminal emulators have different features that appeal to sysadmins for different reasons.

As with all lists of this nature, one of my favorites is listed and another is not. The comments, in which people discuss their favorite terminal emulators that did not make the list, are as interesting as the article itself.

How to automate your system administration tasks with Ansible

Steve Ovens has written the first article about Ansible that I've really understood. What it all boils down to is that Ansible is a simple, idempotent tool for automation of many different types of sysadmin tasks. I had to use the dict idempotent command to find a dictionary definition for idempotent, but Ovens reduces the jargon to a simple concept: Ansible only performs a task called for in its playbook if that task would result in a change. To me that sounds a bit like make for the sysadmin. However, even this short article makes it clear that Ansible is much more than that.

Ovens' article covers creating an SSH public/private keypair for easy access to remote hosts. He then demonstrates how to run ad hoc commands and how to create playbooks that can perform a series of complex administrative tasks on lists of hosts. I have created some automation for administering the hosts I'm responsible for, but it pales in comparison to what Ansible can do. I have decided to give Ansible a try, now that I have this excellent article to get me started. And that is the mark of a great article.

It was a great year for sysadmins at With more articles like these in the offing, 2018 promises to be even better.

About the author

David Both - David Both is an Open Source Software and GNU/Linux advocate, trainer, writer, and speaker who lives in Raleigh North Carolina. He is a strong proponent of and evangelist for the "Linux Philosophy." David has been in the IT industry for nearly 50 years. He has taught RHCE classes for Red Hat and has worked at MCI Worldcom, Cisco, and the State of North Carolina. He has been working with Linux and Open Source Software for over 20 years. David prefers to purchase the components and build his...