Conference Report: 1998 Advanced Technical Workshop
Tuesday, December 8, 1998
Adam Moskowitz <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Facilitator
Rob Kolstad <email@example.com>, Co-chair and Scribe
This information appeared in slightly different form,
misattributed to Bruce Alan Wynn, in the February 1999 (volume
24, number 1) issue of ;login:.
We first went around the room introducing ourselves, the quantity
of users and the quantity and type of hosts we supported (whether
individually or as part of a team), and 2-5 topics we wanted to
discuss during the day. We came up with ranges of up to 10,000
users, 10,000 PCs, 2,000 Macs, and 3,000 Unix hosts of various
flavors. Other notes were multiple terabytes of disk storage (with
projected short-term growth to exceed a petabyte), strange printer
requirements, and extremely high growth rates (up to 400%/year).
After determining the list of possible topics, we took a quick
vote of what topics would be of general enough interest to discuss
in the session. We determined that we wanted to talk, in general,
- Consistency/standardization in sysadmin practices as
- Cool systems administration tools and paradigms
- Specific hot technologies/paradigms to prepare for/Crystal
First we discussed the issue of internal consistency and
standardization in technical practices. We tried to look at the
"problem," but realized that we all had slightly different ways of
looking at it — which was unsurprising considering that we had 31
people in the room, all with different backgrounds and experiences
and so on. We seemed to agree in general that creating standards
is challenging, enforcing them is a hard problem, there are many
more variables than may be obvious at first look, and so on. The
concept of a "taxonomy" or categorization of problems into areas
seemed to make sense to a lot of the folks present.
We next had a free-form discussion on cool systems administration
tools and paradigms. Some general comments were:
- DSL is great. (10 people have 56K or more to the home, all
but one of those has 56K or faster bidirectionally; 6 people
have >128K. Most of these are business-paid and not
- MRTG (discussed in a paper at the conference) was hailed as
a wonderful network mapping tool. It uses SNMP polling on a
5-minute interval and creates web pages with usage graphs. It
ages data appropriately and is freely available. Big Brother,
a systems monitoring package, integrates with MRTG and is also
- Intrusion detection systems now are in the same sort of
not-yet-well understood position as firewalls were a decade
ago. While then we had free firewalls which later became
commercial, now we have commercial intrusion detection systems
(IDS) even though the problem is neither understood nor solved.
- Turnover can be interesting. (16 people changed jobs at
least once in the past year. 4 of these were internal (same
company) job changes. Raises in the new job ranged from 0-90%
and seemed to average around 28%.) And 14 people present have
open requisitions they are actively hiring for.
- Enforcing the use of a PDA like the Palm Pilot has improved
the follow-through for members of the group. Many folks at
one company have bought one with their own money.
- 19 of those present carry a cell phone; 26 carry pagers; 7
carry authentication devices. A few have 2-way pagers; 12
participants pay at least part of their monthly fees for the
portable communications devices.
- 5 members use a Ricochet or similar device for wireless
digital communications. 14 more would use it if it were
available in their area.
- 7 people have an agreement to attend conferences annually.
In spite of that small number, 10 have some kind of permission
to attend more than 2 per year. A couple can go to even more
if they have papers presented at them. Everyone pretty much
gets at least one/year. About half can attend two or more per
year, depending on circumstances.
- Some cool utilities are ssh and Curl. LDAP or similar
directory services are on the rise; 11 attendees have this.
- Cordless phones in machine rooms are a major win.
- Tools sometimes die for lack of nurturing. It would be nice
if there was some way to solve that problem (like a MacArthur
grant type thing). Even finding current versions is too hard.
for LOTS of sysadmin tools.
Next we discussed hot technologies, rumors, and similar
prognostications. One hot technology we talked about is XML, the
Extensible Markup Language. It is self-verifying, easy to parse,
easy to search, and has a universal file format. It's different
from SGML in that it doesn't include the hard-to-implement features.
XML is written in Unicode.
The next hot technology we see on the horizon is Unicode. It
represents all characters (including non-Roman alphabets like
Cyrillic, Hebrew, Farsi, and so on). Microsoft Office 2000 uses
Unicode; rumor has it that Word already uses it too.
Other hot technologies we seemed to think were coming soon are
voice over IP, directory services becoming more important, applications
will support more location independence, voice input and/or
recognition will grow in the next year, and digital camera use will
continue to rise.
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