Posts Tagged 'Education'

November 15, 2011

UNIX Sysadmin Boot Camp: User Management

Now that you're an expert when it comes to bash, logs, SSH, and passwords, you're probably foaming at the mouth to learn some new skills. While I can't equip you with the "nunchuck skills" or "bowhunting skills" Napoleon Dynamite reveres, I can help you learn some more important — though admittedly less exotic — user management skills in UNIX.

Root User

The root user — also known as the "super user" — has absolute control over everything on the server. Nothing is held back, nothing is restricted, and anything can be done. Only the server administrator should have this kind of access to the server, and you can see why. The root user is effectively the server's master, and the server accordingly will acquiesce to its commands.

Broad root access should be avoided for the sake of security. If a program or service needs extensive abilities that are generally reserved for the root user, it's best to grant those abilities on a narrow, as-needed basis.

Creating New Users

Because the Sysadmin Boot Camp series is geared toward server administration from a command-line point of view, that's where we'll be playing today. Tasks like user creation can be performed fairly easily in a control panel environment, but it's always a good idea to know the down-and-dirty methods as a backup.

The useradd command is used for adding users from shell. Let's start with an example and dissect the pieces:

useradd -c "admin" -d /home/username -g users\ -G admin,helpdesk -s\ /bin/bash userid

-c "admin" – This command adds a comment to the user we're creating. The comment in this case is "admin," which may be used to differentiate the user a little more clearly for better user organization.
-d /home/username – This block sets the user's home directory. The most common approach is to replace username with the username designated at the end of the command.
-g users\ – Here, we're setting the primary group for the user we're creating, which will be users.
-G admin,helpdesk – This block specifies other user groups the new user may be a part of.
-s\ /bin/bash userid – This command is in two parts. It says that the new user will use /bin/bash for its shell and that userid will be the new user's username.

Changing Passwords

Root is the only user that can change other users' passwords. The command to do this is:

passwd userid

If you are a user and want to change your own password, you would simply issue the passwd command by itself. When you execute the command, you will be prompted for a new entry. This command can also be executed by the root user to change the root password.

Deleting Users

The command for removing users is userdel, and if we were to execute the command, it might look like this:

userdel -r username

The –r designation is your choice. If you choose to include it, the command will remove the home directory of the specified user.

Where User Information is Stored

The /etc/passwd file contains all user information. If you want to look through the file one page at a time — the way you'd use /p in Windows — you can use the more command:

more /etc/passwd

Keep in mind that most of your important configuration files are going to be located in the /etc folder, commonly spoken with an "et-see" pronunciation for short. Each line in the passwd file has information on a single user. Arguments are segmented with colons, as seen in the example below:

username:password:12345:12345::/home/username:/bin/bash

Argument 1 – username – the user's username
Argument 2 – password – the user's password
Argument 3 – 12345 – the user's numeric ID
Argument 4 – 12345 – the user group's numeric ID
Argument 5 – "" – where either a comment or the user's full name would go
Argument 6 - /home/username – the user's home directory
Argument 7 - /bin/bash – the user's default console shell

Now that you've gotten a crash course on user management, we'll start going deeper into group management, more detailed permissions management and the way shadow file relates to the passwd usage discussed above.

-Ryan

November 14, 2011

My Road to LPIC-1 Certification

I've been a Linux user for many years, but for various reasons I never bothered to get a certification even though it's a fantastic validation of Linux skills. When I moved up in the world by joining SoftLayer, my attitude quickly changed.

As a new Systems Administrator at SoftLayer, one of the first challenges I was presented with was to try for my LPIC-1 certification. True to SoftLayer's motto of "Challenging, but not Overwhelming," I was given 3 months, a practice environment and reimbursement for my fees if I passed the tests. With an offer like that, it was impossible to refuse.

The LPIC-1 tests are not easy, and it took a lot of work to pass them, but if you're interested all you need to succeed is a solid background in Linux and the time to dedicate to preparation. Here are some of the things I learned along the way:

  1. Don't attempt the LPIC-1 exam unless you have at least a couple of years' worth of hands-on Linux experience. Seriously, it's not for newbies.
  2. Acquire at least two test-prep books, and read one of them every day. I used O'Reilly's LPIC-1 Certification in a Nutshell and LPIC-1 In Depth by Michael Jang. Both are easy to read, have good explanations of concepts you need to understand, and provide valuable tips in addition to practice exams.
  3. Set up a practice environment. It's essential for reviewing commands you may not be familiar with.
  4. When you think you are ready for the first exam, take a few free practice tests online. There are a number of them available.
  5. I didn't buy any test-prep software, but I did download a couple of trial versions as they offered some free practice questions.
  6. Take all of the practice exams available to you several times each. You'll get more comfortable with the format of the test questions and will also learn which areas you need to revisit before the actual test.

After earning the LPIC-1 certification I received a nice surprise in my mailbox along with my certificate. Apparently Novell and the Linux Professional Institute have a partnership: By earning the LPIC-1 I had also satisfied the requirements for Novell's Certified Linux Administrator (CLA) certification, so now I can enjoy the benefits of having two IT certifications for the price of one and I have SoftLayer to thank for it!

-Todd

September 25, 2011

Learning the Language of Hosting

It's been a little over a month since I started at SoftLayer ... And what a difference a month makes. In the course of applying for the Social Media Coordinator position I now hold, I was asked to write a few sample blogs. One was supposed to be about what SoftLayer does, and I answered it to the best of my abilities at the time. Looking back on my answer, I must admit I had no idea what I was getting into.

On the plus side, comparing what I know now with what I thought I knew then shows how much a person with zero background in hosting can learn in a short period of time. To give you an idea of where I came from, let's look at a few theoretical conversations:

Pre-SoftLayer

Friend: What does SoftLayer do?
Rachel: They are a hosting provider.
Friend: What is a hosting provider?
Rachel: It's sort of like an Internet landlord that rents data space to clients ... I think.

Present Day

Friend: What is it you do?
Rachel: I'm the Social Media Coordinator for SoftLayer Technologies.
Friend: What does SoftLayer do?
Rachel: SoftLayer is a hosting provider, however that is a generalization. We have data centers around the country and are expanding worldwide. The company offers dedicated, cloud and hybrid environments that allow us to handle companies outsourced IT. We are infrastructure experts.

That would be a little bit of a cookie cutter explanation, but it gives a lot more context to the business, and it would probably soar above the head of my non-technical inquisitive friend.

During my first week on the job, I visited one of SoftLayer's data centers ... And that "data center" term turned out to be a little tricky for me to remember. For some reason, I always wanted to call the data center a "database center." It got to the point where Kevin challenged me to a piggy bank deal.

SoftLayer is raising money for the American Heart Association, and everyone has a little piggy bank at their desk. One of the piggy banks essentially became a "swear jar" ... except not for swearing. Every time I said "database center," I had to put a dollar in the piggy bank. The deal was extended when I was trying to remember that 1 byte (big B) = 8 bits (little b):

AHA Piggy Bank

With money on the line, I'm happy to say that I haven't confused "database centers" or bits and bytes again ... And the piggy bank on the left-hand side of the picture above proves it!

Back to the DC (data center!) tour: I learned about how CRAC units are used to pull air underneath the floor and cool the "cold aisles" in the DC. I learned about the racks and how our network architecture provides private, public, and out–of–band management networks on the back end to customers in a way unique to SoftLayer. Most importantly, I learned the difference between managed, dedicated, cloud and hosting environments that incorporate all of those different kinds of hosting. This is a far cry from focusing on getting the terminology correct.

I'm still not an expert on all things SoftLayer, and I'm pretty sure I'll end up with my very own acronym dictionary, but I must admit that I absorbed more information in the past month than I thought possible. I have to thank my ninja sensei, Kevin, for taking the time to answer my questions. It felt like school again ... especially since there was a whiteboard in use!

Kevin, enjoy your empty piggy bank!

-Rachel

August 12, 2011

UNIX Sysadmin Boot Camp: An Intro to SSH

You've got a 'nix box set up. For some reason, you feel completely lost and powerless. It happens. Many a UNIX-related sob has been cried by confused and frustrated sysadmins, and it needs to stop. As a techie on the front lines of support, I've seen firsthand the issues that new and curious sysadmins seem to have. We have a lot of customers who like to dive head-first into a new environment, and we even encourage it. But there's quite a learning curve.

In my tenure at SoftLayer, I've come across a lot of customers who rely almost entirely on control panels provided by partners like cPanel and Parallels to administer their servers. While those panels simplify some fairly complex tasks to the touch of a button, we all know that one day you're going to have to get down and dirty in that SSH (Secure Shell) interface that so many UNIX server newbies fear.

I'm here to tell you that SSH can be your friend, if you treat it right. Graphical user interfaces like the ones used in control panels have been around for quite a while now, and despite the fact that we are in "the future," the raw power of a command line is still unmatched in its capabilities. It's a force to be reckoned with.

If you're accustomed to a UNIX-based interface, this may seem a little elementary, but you and I both know that as we get accustomed to something, we also tend to let those all-important "basics" slip from our minds. If you're coming from a Windows background and are new to the environment, you're in for a bit of a shell shock, no pun intended. The command line is fantastically powerful once you master it ... It just takes a little time and effort to learn.

We'll start slow and address some of the most common pain points for new sysadmins, and as we move forward, we'll tackle advanced topics. Set your brain to "absorbent," and visualize soaking up these UNIX tips like some kind of undersea, all-knowing, Yoda-like sea sponge.

SSH

SSH allows data to be exchanged securely between two networked devices, and when the "network" between your workstation and server is the Internet, the fact that it does so "securely" is significant. Before you can do any actual wielding of SSH, you're going to need to know how to find this exotic "command line" we've talked so much about.

You can use a third-party client such as PuTTY, WinSCP if your workstation is Windows-based, or if you're on Linux or Mac, you can access SSH from your terminal application: ssh user@ipaddress. Once you've gotten into your server, you'll probably want to find out where you are, so give the pwd command a try:

user@serv: ~$ pwd
/home/user
user@serv: ~$

It's as easy as that. Now we know we're in the /home/user directory. Most of the time, you'll find yourself starting in your home directory. This is where you can put personal files and documents. It's kind of like "My Documents" in Windows, just on your server.

Now that you know where you are, you'll probably want to know what's in there. Take a look at these commands (extracted from a RedHat environment, but also usable in CentOS and many other distributions):

    user@serv: /usr/src $ ls    
This will give you a basic listing of the current directory.

    user@serv: /usr/src $ ls /usr/src/redhat    
This will list the contents of another specified directory.

    user@serv: /usr/src $ ls ./redhat    
Using a "relative pathname," this will perform the same action as above.

    user@serv: /usr/src $ ls redhat    
Most of the time, you'll get the same results even without the "./" at the beginning.

    user@serv: /usr/src $ cd /usr/src/redhat/    
This is an example of using the cd command to change directories to an absolute pathname.

    user@serv: /usr/src $ cd redhat    
This is an example of using the cd command to change directories to a relative pathname.

    user@serv: /usr/src/redhat $ cd /usr/src    
To move back on directory from the working directory, you can use the destination's absolute path.

    user@serv: /usr/src/redhat $ cd ..    
Or, since the desired directory is one step down, you can use two dots to move back.

You'll notice many similarities to the typical Windows DOS prompts, so it helps if you're familiar with navigating through that interface: dir, cd, cd .., cd /. Everything else on the other hand, will prove to be a bit different.

Now that you're able to access this soon-to-be-powerful-for-you tool, you need to start learning the language of the natives: bash. In our next installment, we'll take a crash course in bash, and you'll start to get comfortable navigating and manipulating content directly on your server.

Bookmark the SoftLayer Blog and come back regularly to get the latest installments in our "UNIX Sysadmin Boot Camp" series!

-Ryan

August 3, 2009

Education

Attending College Classes can be a daunting task. The hours of homework and studying (and the obligatory time spent actually in the classroom) can noticeably eat away at one’s free time (and at times, their sanity). While it can be painful to take on college, attending classes and working on top of it can be exponentially more difficult. Balancing your studies with your responsibilities at work can be tricky, even for those who are experts in time management. When all is said and done, though, the investment is well worth it. As I’ve stated before, Knowledge is power (yes, I know, shameless self promotion), and learning can occur at any opportunity.

I recently realized that with the exception for while sleeping (some days I can count the hours on one hand), I am always learning new things. While my progressing college education keeps me thinking, SoftLayer has taught me more than I ever thought I would learn in such a short amount of time. New operating systems (at least to me), and continual changes and improvements are synonymous with life at SL. Learning occurs at every customer request, every server build, and every operating system install. Certainly, employment here is not for the faint of heart. More so, no one can say that they didn’t leave their shift just a bit smarter than when they arrived.

Knowledge is important in this industry, as knowing the correct process to solve a problem can mean the difference between five hours and five minutes of downtime. While everyone has their strengths, the team that we have here supersedes any possible weaknesses, leading to one of the brightest group of individuals anyone could have the privilege of working with. I spend my shifts perpetually challenged, but never overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of issues (read: learning opportunities) that present themselves every day. While I will concede that classes such as precalculus and humanities may not directly sharpen my troubleshooting skills, being able to think logically and follow procedures will certainly pay off in the long run.

December 1, 2008

Customer Education

If you read through some of the previous blogs on this site such as our CEO’s “SoftLayer Thinks ‘Outside the Box’” or the blog written by one of our super developers, Mr McAloon, entitled “Simplicity”, or Mr Rushe’s “An Interview with an elevator” (OK – that has nothing to do with what I’m referring to, but it’s one of the funniest blogs on this site), one thing you’ll notice is that at SoftLayer, we try to automate and simplify things for the customer. Our customer portal has a LOT of customer features. There are automated OS reloads, the ability to boot into a rescue kernel, the capability to add IP addresses on demand, add and configure a firewall or a local or global load balancer, the ability to edit your DNS settings (forward or reverse) and – my favorite – the ability to reboot your server via IPMI or the power strip. You can also manage your CDN services, monitor your NAS or iSCSI storage, configure backups, use the free KVM services, check your bandwidth and of course, handle all of the usual things like opening support tickets or checking your invoice. Or, if you want to integrate any or all of those features into your own management system, there is a full API available for your use.

With all of that functionality in the portal, one of the challenges we continuously run into is educating new customers on all of the features. Not just educating them on how to use the features – but that the features actually exist in the customer portal. A lot of our customers are either new to On-Demand IT Infrastructure Services (aka the hosting environment) or come from other competitors that only offer a fraction of the features that we are able to provide. For instance, you would be amazed at how many customers open “reboot” tickets. While we respond to tickets quickly, it is actually faster for the customer to click on the “reboot” button in the portal than to click on the “create new ticket” link in the portal and then type out a reboot request.

As ways to address that issue, we created a private customer forum so that customers can share ideas, comments and suggestions with each other. We have also not only created the KnowledgeLayer FAQ database, but we have integrated that directly into the support ticket feature of the portal (when you open a ticket, the FAQ system will automatically recommend related fixes before you even submit the ticket). We also have tutorials directly linked inside the portal and even have all of our API documentation available for review.

So one of the challenges we have at SoftLayer isn’t just creating and deploying the new features and services that keep us out in front of the pack, but educating our customers of their existence and their ease of use. BTW, that’s a great problem to have!

-SamF

April 29, 2008

SoftLayer University

WOW…Am I the only one that has noticed the sky-rocketing cost of formal education these days? Or, what about the exorbitant amounts charged for Internet educational programs? (Hello, RH! *I am a student in an online RH course…yes, I paid a ton!)

I truly enjoy learning. I must always have something that I am actively involved in learning. And, I am always looking for something new to learn. Hmmm….maybe that’s why I am in IT…

We all know there is always something more to learn in the world of IT. As a CSA, I can learn more in a day from investigating, researching, and resolving customer issues than most university students learn about a specific subject in an entire semester. I know because I was a university student at one time. The range of issues that we CSA’s face on a daily basis is truly amazing. It makes sense when you look at the vast array of businesses/business models, and therefore applications for their servers, that our customers enjoy. I believe there is another blog in here somewhere in which one of my colleagues outlines some of the hats that we as CSA’s wear on a daily basis. All this is to say that, in the relatively short time that SoftLayer has been around, there has been a massive amount of information that has been learned, communicated, AND SAVED FOR YOUR EDUCATIONAL BENEFIT AND PLEASURE!!!

That’s right! For an unlimited time (as long as you are a SoftLayer customer), you too can benefit from the wealth of information that numerous techs have struggled with, fought for, and, at times, felt like dying for! Volumes of knowledge have been painstakingly documented as a resource for our very own SoftLayer technicians, AND, this same information has been made available to our customers! This amazing resource is available for the bargain basement price of $0.00. Think of all the money you could spend at a university taking classes at inconvenient times of the day. Think of the mounds of cash you could spend for an online course or weekend crash course just to teach you the much needed information found very conveniently in SoftLayer’s very own “KnowledgeLayer”!

You might say, “What if I need a tutor?” Think of the cash you could spend on a personal tutor. No need to spend cash on a tutor when you are a customer of SoftLayer! The SoftLayer forums are filled with tutors ready, willing, and excited to answer your questions, share in your accomplishments, and bask in the glow of your success! There are industry “experts” in there to help advise you when you need to make a decision regarding the next step for your growing business. Did I mention the SoftLayer “tutorials”, which can be found in the SoftLayer portal under the Support tab? Yes, we have our very own customized video tutorials in the portal! SoftLayer is almost a “one-stop-shop” for all your server-related educational needs.

But, wait, there is more! If, after learning from the KnowledgeLayer and being tutored in the forums, you still feel that you need more personalized attention in order to truly understand an issue that you are studying, you can always open a ticket with Support, and a CSA will personally work with you to teach you everything that you need to know regarding that specific issue!

So, in summary, when purchasing a server with SoftLayer, you have not only made an investment in the success of your business by choosing the industries’ best on-demand datacenter provider, you have also enrolled in SoftLayer University!

What courses of study would you like to pursue?

-David

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