Next Project: “Networking for Sysadmins”

FreeBSD Mastery: Storage Essentials is out for tech review. (If you’re reading the pre-pub book, you’ve got a few more days to get comments back to me.) I’ll then make the corrections and send it to copyediting.

So I’m writing another book.

The current title is Networking for System Administrators. (I’d like to work the word “Mastery” in there, but it sounds artificially kludged together, because it would be.) It’s a small book, readable in a couple hours.

I’ve worked in a whole bunch of IT organizations as both a system administrator and a network administrator. In most of them I get sucked into a bridge role because I can speak to both teams in their own language.

It’s hard to teach a network administrator to be a sysadmin. An enterprise often runs a dozen or more different operating system, and who knows how many variants of each. Plus, each team might configure their differently. “You need a password to sudo here, you need a Yubikey to log on here, you need a hole in the head to log on here…” oy vey! Asking a network administrator to learn all this is like asking a sysadmin to configure Cisco, RouterOS, and OpenBSD routers. It just isn’t going to happen.

But the basic principles of networking isn’t hard, and understanding basic networking can save the sysadmin so much time. A sysadmin who wants to learn networking is often referred to books like The TCP/IP Guide or TCP/IP Illustrated. These are awesome books, and some systems administrators (and all non-web app developers) need to read them. For the majority of sysadmins, they’re overkill. An enterprise database administrator who needs to understand TCP/IP window scaling to do his job should call his network administrator.

Instead, most sysadmins learn networking via occasional blog posts, Google searches, and oral tradition. This is a ghastly way to learn any technical topic.

The result? Calls the sysadmin doesn’t want to make and the network administrator doesn’t want to get.

  • “Did that firewall port ever get opened?”
  • “Is my server plugged into the right network?”
  • “What do you mean that service is broken, I can ping it?”
  • “That service isn’t working, I can’t ping it.”
  • “That UDP port isn’t open, I can’t telnet to it!”

    A knowledgeable sysadmin can quickly answer all of these questions for themselves without picking up the phone. And we wouldn’t be in IT if we wanted to talk on the phone.

    The table of contents so far is:

  • Introduction
  • Network layers — the bottom 4 layers, and troubleshooting pointers to later chapters
  • Ethernet
  • IPv4
  • IPv6
  • TCP/IP (protocols, ports, etc)
  • Active traffic (netstat)
  • DNS
  • Checking the Network (sending vs receiving)
  • tcpdump (what we receive)
  • netcat (what we send)
  • packet filtering for sysadmins
  • tracing problems (traceroute & mtr)

    This book also contains guidance on detecting an uneducated network administrator. “Filtering all ICMP, because ICMP is bad? Bzzzt!” I don’t put it in quite those terms, but… yeah. You at least need to know what you’re dealing with.

    Unlike my earlier Mastery books, the incomplete draft of this book will not be available for pre-order. Sales of books that I offer for pre-order are much lower than books I don’t offer pre-order on. Part of this is the topic–DNSSEC has less popular interest than SSH. But the sudo book is doing much less well than I expected, excluding a spike from the Slashdot review. (Reviews on sites like Slashdot help sales more than anything I’ve found.)

    From talking to other indie authors, it seems that an initial surge of sales strongly affects online bookstore’s algorithms. I say seems because most online bookstores do not make their algorithms public–they don’t want clever buggers like you telling me how to game their system.

    The only way for me to tell is to test it, however. I won’t be doing preorders for this book and the next FreeBSD Mastery title.

    I believe that many of my readers don’t need this book. I do hope that you’ll tell certain people you work with to read it, however. You know the ones I mean.

    More updates as events warrant. Or you can check Twitter for the hashtag #n4sa. (I’m not the only one with that hashtag, but it seems pretty rarely used, so I’ll claim it.)

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