[nflug] network admin/ engineer advise

Ken Smith kensmith at cse.Buffalo.EDU
Thu Aug 30 20:03:09 EDT 2007

On Thu, 2007-08-30 at 16:12 -0700, Ryan Slomiany wrote:
> what would be a better OS to get acquainted with?
> FreeBSD or my current installation of Ubuntu Server?

My opinion is don't choose.  Get acquainted with both starting with
Ubuntu.  Ubuntu is designed to be a lot more "user-friendly" than
FreeBSD which is a bit more geared towards the server end of the
spectrum (that said I use it for my desktop systems too...).  Once
you've played around with Ubuntu for a while and gotten the hang of it
give FreeBSD a try.  What you'll find is that it's similar but
different.  All operating systems in the end wind up needing to do
pretty much the same thing but they do it in (sometimes subtly,
sometimes drastically) different ways.  Ubuntu versus FreeBSD is
actually a really good introduction to that whole concept and seeing
both helps you realize it's not such a horrible thing to hop amongst
different operating systems which increases your value as a sys-admin.

I expose my class to homeworks involving Solaris, Linux (I typically use
RedHat because we've got it available here) and FreeBSD as part of their
lab work though I'll usually babble a bit about other systems in
lectures.  At any given point in time the "most popular" list of
OpenSource operating systems is hard to evaluate because the popularity
of various Linux distributions tends to fluctuate fairly widely through
time and the Linux's in general are by far the most popular.  But if you
lump all the various Linux distributions into one category and call the
whole thing "Linux" then that holds (by a huge margin) the number 1 slot
but FreeBSD would hold the number 2 slot and by this measure the list
hasn't fluctuated much for many years.  That's one of the reasons I'm
suggesting Ubuntu and FreeBSD are a good mix.

> what other steps would be beneficial? installing an
> SMTP server? playing with sercurity and firewalls? 

Maybe add in Web server, IMAP server (bonus points for being able to
cope with Cyrus), and DNS server (at least as a pure "caching only"
server if nothing else).  And if you want to walk on the dark side learn
how to install software by downloading the source code and installing it
from that yourself.  That's the minimal list.  If you're *really*
looking to cause yourself some pain venture into things like some of the
Wiki's, Web "Content Management Systems" (at least the latter if not the
former will usually drag you into MySQL in the process), and diddle some
with things like SPAM filtering on the SMTP server (e.g. SpamAssassin,
and things like Grey Listing which will also again possibly drag you
into things like MySQL).

There are a couple more things you can try if you're trying hard to
learn but it's a bit harder to wander in this direction.  You learn a
*lot* from needing to deal with things when they break.  But short of
dealing with a live site that's hard to simulate and then learn from.
For example typically the first big project for my class involves me
giving the students a machine that's got two drives in it and both
drives *had* been in use but just before they got the machine I wiped
out the contents of the second drive.  They've got the machine, a backup
tape, hints about what the machine had looked like before I wiped out
the second drive, and remote access to a tape drive.  The project is to
fix it.  :-)

> what would be the best way to go about this?

I learned it by becoming a sys-admin and needing to do it which is hands
down the most effective way.  Short of just doing stuff out of interest
(and, most importantly, then exercising the results by using it
yourself) there isn't a whole lot you can do.  Just the fact something
says it's completed the installation doesn't mean it's right - there is
no substitute for that thing then being *used*.  Oh, and let the systems
"live" long enough to go through a cycle or two of software *upgrades*
(e.g. upgrading the Apache version, upgrading the MySQL version, etc).
Sometimes that's easy, some times it's not (upgrading over a "major
version bump" is typically less fun than minor version bumps).  And if
you're "lucky" this will introduce you to stuff like "RPM H*ll", etc.

                                                Ken Smith
- From there to here, from here to      |       kensmith at cse.buffalo.edu
  there, funny things are everywhere.   |
                      - Theodore Geisel |

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