Monday, March 19, 2007

Why Isn't System Administration Evolving? - O'Reilly Sysadmin

Luke A. Kanies, author of puppet, has an interesting blog post Why Isn't System Administration Evolving? - O'Reilly Sysadmin, in which he laments the lack of automation in the field of system administration.

In my opinion, Luke overstates the case. Without automation, most sysadmins I know would be dead in the water. The past two shops I've worked in have focused me very heavily on automation in a role somewhere between traditional systems administration and development. I also happen to be familiar with some of the books Luke references as well as Tom Limoncelli as an author. There was a very strange statement in Luke's post about how Tom had "gone out of his way to avoid automation." This didn't sound right to me but I'm willing to accept it was just taken out of content.

In any event, I agree with some points Luke has made, especially that sysadmins who are installing new systems primarily from CD ought to be sacked right away. Taking that point to one side, however, there are a nunmber of issues that I think Luke is raising simply to create an artificial need for his puppet software.

Many factors dictate whether a particular open source package is right for a given environment. In my opinion, cfengine or Luke's puppet don't work too well in my environment because we already have an existing solution that works for us (no, it isn't me running for loops and SSH). We leverage yum, plus custom repositories to host all our in house and third party software and configuration. While software deployment and configuration are typically sepearted out as two steps, there is enough overlap here to have yum and RPM manage both aspects.

So, I say to sysadmins, use the tools that are out there first. In the event you find yourself in a situation where no tool exits, look again. If you're still stuck, write a blog about it. Someone will come along and set you straight.

Finally, big props for bringing Splunk up in the discussion. I'm working with them very closely lately and I have nothing but great things to say about their product and the entire company.


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