Essential System Administration, by Aeleen Frisch

Reviewed by: Kerri-Leigh Grady, send e-mail
Published by: O'Reilly Publishing, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: $54.95

Books that bear the O’Reilly publisher’s name and trademark cover images almost never fail to live up to the standard of quality this publisher repeatedly strives to reach. The third edition of Aeleen Frisch’s Essential System Administration fills its spot perfectly as yet another esteemed O’Reilly title.

New to the world of system administration, I approached this book not as a comparison to the previous editions, which I had been told were excellent in their own right and well-matched to those sys admins trying to take their duties to another level. Instead, I dove into the chapters as a reader entirely new both to this title and to the subject matter. What I found surprised me.

Usually, books that truly expand the reader’s knowledge of a topic are tome-like in their size and voice. And Frisch’s book, at first glance, appears to live up to the promise of being extremely enlightening, as it weighs in at a whopping 1,095 pages. Fortunately for those of us who fall into a state of somnambulism with large amounts of heavy material, Frisch’s take on the topic is both light and refreshing without sacrificing good structure and fantastic lessons. Humor repeatedly balances what would otherwise come across as dry and heavy.

Frisch begins the book with her take on system administration as a job, a culture and a way of approaching problem solving tasks. Normally I would skip such a topic as I'm more interested in the meat of the book – what will help me do my job better. Yet at some point in the skimming of this chapter, I fell into full-on reading and came away with a sense of motivation for the tasks that I would find ahead of me. This introduction certainly set the tone for the remainder of the book. After years in the industry, Frisch understands like few can how a sys admin job requires more than just problem solving skills and knowledge of the system architecture.

Yet Frisch never dwells too long on the human side of the job. As soon as she’s addressed such issues, she dives into the lessons that readers need in order to understand the systems they must maintain. After a brief and surprisingly detailed discussion of the UNIX approach to directories and files, the race is on. Frisch leaves nothing out as she covers the perils and triumphs of networking issues, security, system automation, healthy system maintenance, and the not-so-basics of daily administration tasks, from scripting useful tools to backups and restores. In addition, she covers these topics for AIX 5.1, FreeBSD 4.6, HP-UX 11, Red Hat 7.3, SuSE 8, Solaris 8 & 9 and Tru64 5.1.

My own systems cover Linux, Solaris and HP-UX, so detailed information on exactly how to execute certain functions in each of these environments came in handy more than I would have expected. After all, what good UNIX fiend doesn't know about man pages? Sure, they're helpful, but if you have Frisch’s staggering wealth of knowledge under your arm, even man pages quiver in fear of your potential.

As with most O’Reilly books, definitely reserve a place of honor on your bookshelf for Essential System Administration. Whether you're a system administrator only for your personal system or for a small army of corporate systems, this book will not fail in its task to enlighten you and broaden the scope of your UNIX understanding.

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