Linux System Administration: The Next Step for Power Users

Posted by tadelste on Dec 28, 2005 9:34 PM EDT
LXer.com; By Tom Adelstein, Editor-in-Chief
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LXer Day Desk: 12-28-2005

Personal growth occurs in many ways. Pushing yourself into a new endeavor is one of the most constructive ways to achieve such growth. So, why don't we see more of it? It's often easier to stay with what's comfortable. When you step out on the skinny branches, you put yourself at-risk and that's uncomfortable. Those who can handle the discomfort will find the experience rewarding.

In a song called "It's alright ma, I'm only bleeding", a young Bob Dylan says "He not busy being born is busy dying". That became a mantra in years past for being into personal growth. We see less of those movements today. In fact, critics of the human potential movement have positioned it as weird.



So if you have an interest in personal growth and don't want to wear the brand of a weirdo, you can start learning Linux system administration. I don't mean learn about it, I mean do it.



How So?



Put together a small server, get a dedicated Internet pipe into your home with static IP addresses, register a domain name and build yourself a server on the Internet. Push yourself out there and start learning what Linux can do away from the desktop.



With some people, that's the equivalent of jumping out of an air plane or learning to do ropes on a ten thousand foot mountain. Just remember that fear is often just a set of body sensations designed to keep you stuck. You can be afraid and also accomplish many things at the same time.



Where Does One Start?



The paragraph above gives you a summary of the steps, but you still have to put an operating system on the box you choose. I started with an used Intel box with a CPU two generations older than current models. I put in a new hard drive, added memory and went with a no frills version of Linux.



The people over at HowtoForge have a number of step-by-step guides to building a Linux server. One recent tutorial you might find interesting is The Perfect Setup: Mandriva 2006 Free Edition.



The description reads: This is a detailed description about the steps to be taken to setup a Mandriva 2006 Free Edition based server that offers all services needed by ISPs and hosters (web server (SSL-capable), mail server (with SMTP-AUTH and TLS!), DNS server, FTP server, MySQL server, POP3/IMAP, Quota, Firewall, etc.).



If you don't like Mandriva, you can chose ISP-Server Setup - Ubuntu 5.10 "Breezy Badger" or The Perfect Setup - Fedora Core 4. They also have some tutorials for SuSE.



The HowtoForge tutorials will just help you set up a distribution as a server that's ready for deployment on the Internet. You can ease into some of the things you need to learn by adding ISPConfig to your server as described in the HowtoForge tutorials. ISPConfig is a free web based management tool similar to one used by Cobalt. It's not an extensive web based tool and I recommend using it as a walker to get started. Don't stop with ISPConfig and make it your administration GUI.



Time to Add to Your Skill Set



The next step after getting your system setup is to learn Domain Name Services. I often refer to it as the parent process for so many others. DNS will test your fortitude because the terminology will not seem intuitive to you. So, find a tutorial such as this one and start dragging yourself through the mental fog until DNS makes sense. Then write your named.conf and zone files and get your web server ready to post some web pages to your site.



Once you have embraced DNS, you'll want to learn Internet mail services and Apache. This guide provides a very useful approach allowing you to use postfix and fetch mail with Gmail. The Apache foundation has a number of tutorials to get you stated and take you deep into web services.



If that's not enough, you'll find a plethora of information on the Internet to help you with these. Learn to manage these by hand without the help of web based administration tools. Otherwise, you'll never get a sense of the nuances of Linux system administration.



What Should You Do After That?



If you get through the first tasks outlined above, you'll have achieved incredible personal growth. You'll also have a lot of self confidence you may never dreamed possible. So, at that point, pat yourself on the back and see how much more money you can make.



Knowing how to set up a server with the services mentioned above and then mastering DNS, Mail and Apache should provide the foundation for moving in the direction of your choice. I recommend going after database administration. As a system administrator, developers will expect you to set up a database server, create a client and provision a database instance for them to use. You have a lot of choices, but I suggest learning postgreSQL or MySQL first.



You'll also want to learn how to do network administration, which will overlap with what you already learned. But, in this area of systems administration, you'll learn to manage users, groups, file systems, hardware, routers, firewalls, samba, etc.



Should I Say More?



Since this was my way of challenging you to step out, I won't leave you hanging. In fact, you'll see much more information about system administration in the days and weeks ahead. You can do this and I promise to keep prodding you.



First things first. Take a look at the HowtoForge tutorials and get your system set up on the Internet. I don't care which system you choose. Just make a commitment and do it.





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