• United States
Unix Dweeb

Linux resolutions for 2018

Dec 29, 20176 mins

New Year's resolutions for Linux admins and users

It’s always a good idea to start a new year with renewed intentions to be even better users and administrators of our Linux systems. For auld lang syne (for the sake of old times), let’s touch on some of the ways we might improve our system practices in 2018.

1. Automate more of the boring stuff

There are three good reasons to turn tedious tasks into scripts. The first is to make them less annoying. The second is to make them less error-prone. And the last is to make them easier to turn over to new team members who haven’t been around long enough to be bored. Add a small dose of meaningful comments to your scripts and you have a better chance of passing on some of your wisdom about how things should be done.

2. Learn a new scripting language

It’s easy to keep using the same tools you’ve been using for decades (I should know), but you might have more fun and more relevance in the long run if you teach yourself a new scripting language. If you’ve got bash and Perl down pat, consider adding Python or Ruby or some other new language to your mix of skills.

3. Try a distribution you haven’t used before

The number and variety of Linux distributions available today is incredible. Maybe it’s time to try out some you’ve never tried before. Keep in mind that many Linux distributions can be run in live mode. In other words, you can run them off a DVD or USB drive without having to install them on your hard drive. Be adventurous!

Consider looking into a variety of distributions, such as Arch Linux, CentOS 7, Elementary OS, Linux Mint, openSUSE, Tails, and Ubuntu.

4. Embrace cloud technology

The cloud has taken hold and become a technology that most of us need to embrace (although I’m still struggling with the image of me hugging a cloud). For many of us, the idea of trusting an outside organization with our data is still a bit of a jump, but the security measures that cloud providers implement is impressive. Even if you’re not ready to start hugging clouds, you should become familiar with cloud services and cloud technology along with the measures that cloud providers use to ensure data entrusted to them is safe.

5. Focus on system security

The security of the systems you manage should always be a top priority. Fortunately, applying patches on Linux systems is easy. Understanding all of the critical aspects of system security is not. Look into tools for vulnerability assessment and access governance. Manage your accounts and applications with care. Think like an attacker.

6. Verify your backups are working

Don’t assume your backups are working properly. Perform an occassional test to ensure that you can restore data when needed.

7. Pick up some new troubleshooting skills

Don’t wait for an emergency before you start looking into the kind of tools that can help you probe into problems. Use tools such as atop, dmesg, free, iostat, pidstat, vmstat, and sar often enough that you’ll be ready to use them when the heat is on.

8. Pay more attention to metrics (establish quality metrics)

Routinely collect and review performance metrics. The best way to know when things are bad is to be familiar with what they look like when they’re good.

9. Document your procedures

Document the things that you do — especially those processes that are complex and those that you do infrequently. You’ll save yourself time in the long run and will have an easier time when you need to turn those responsibilities over to someone else so that you can move to a more challenging or interesting assignment.

10. Take a class or teach a class

Always be ready to learn something new. If you’re not picking up skills, you’re falling behind. Try to spend 10 percent of your work time exploring new tools or processes. Take a couple classes a year if you can. And consider holding a class at work or a local school to pass on some of your wisdom to others.

11. Find a new job or make your current job better

Don’t get stuck in a position that you don’t enjoy and don’t feel supported by management. Do what you can to improve your work situation, and stay on top of other work assignments or jobs that could be available to you if you decided to move on. Checking out job openings can also help you to get a realistic assessment of what skills are in high demand and motivate you to learn some new languages and applications.

12. Consider going after a certification

Technical certifications can help to confirm your skills. The tests can be tedious and expensive, but they are usually worth the expense and the trouble, particularly if you can get your employer to support your efforts.

13. Provide tips to your users on security and/or how to be more productive

Sending reminders to your users on how to react to security threats and protect company data can be extremely helpful, especially if you don’t overwhelm them. Let them know what they should be on the lookout for and provide them with a specific way to report problems and suspicious events.

14. Use encrypted connections whenever possible

Even on internal connections, encryption is a good idea. Protecting data in transit from view keeps it from being exposed and the technology in use today has removed most of the downside (encryption takes longer) argument.

15. Deploy two-factor authentication for highly sensitive connections

Using two-factor authentication for things like VPN connections provides a very serious block to anyone hoping to spoof your account. Protect your identity and your network by requiring something in addition to a username and password — for example, a SecurID token that provides a code that lasts only a number of seconds.

16. Stop using deprecated commands

It’s hard to break old habits, but get used to the newer commands. Maybe it’s time to use ip instead of ifconfig and ss instead of netstat. Look into the newer commands, and try to roll them into your daily work.

17. Improve your relationship with your users

If you’re a sys admin, get to know your users. Encourage them to let you know about problems they run into and ask questions when something seems off on their systems.

18. Have a life — take vacations, enjoy your time off

Never forget that a job, no matter how consuming and exciting it is, is still a job. Enjoy your time off. Have some hobbies that don’t involve sitting at your computer, and take a vacation now and then.

And don’t forget …

There are now only 20 years until 2038 — The Unix/Linux clockpocalypse. Maybe it’s time to party like it’s 1970!

Unix Dweeb

Sandra Henry-Stocker has been administering Unix systems for more than 30 years. She describes herself as "USL" (Unix as a second language) but remembers enough English to write books and buy groceries. She lives in the mountains in Virginia where, when not working with or writing about Unix, she's chasing the bears away from her bird feeders.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Sandra Henry-Stocker and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

More from this author