The Sysadmin’s Toolkit

Today, I present the system administrator’s toolkit. Well, not really today because this is an old post (circa 2006) that I’ve moved over from the previous version of the site, but let’s pretend that today really is today.

This is a compilation of the junk that I have accumulated as part of my own personal toolkit. Some examples are dead serious and others are a bit of joke, I’ll leave it to the reader to discern which ones are which. Since not all sysadmins are the same and not all sysadmins perform the same job or have the same duties, I’m sure there are those out there who have a much larger or expanded toolkit than mine. I’m also sure others out there have a much shittier toolkit at their disposal. Since I feel that I’m situated somewhere in the middle of the pack, I think my toolkit can serve as a decent example to others about what should be in their toolkits or make obvious what I’m missing. I’d love to hear back from others if their toolkits include any important items that I’ve left out.After each tool or set of tools is presented, I’ll provide some reasoning behind the item and it’s purpose.

Without further ado, the toolkit:

1. Essential Books, Notebook, Coffee Mug, Stuffed Penguin and Aviator Glasses

My two current essential books are Time Management for System Administrators by Thomas Limoncelli and The Practice of System and Network Administration by Thomas Limoncelli and Christine Hogan. I might seems like a little bit of a tool myself presenting two books by Mr. Limoncelli as my two essential books but I really think of these two books as one. Neither is as effective without the other.

Every sysadmin needs a notebook. I’m not quite a diligent with mine as I should be but I still find it very useful for jotting notes down or drawing diagrams, etc. This is a must have. Along these same lines, every sysadmin needs a coffee mug… well at least every sysadmin that drinks coffee. I used to have this lame HP mug that just screamed “I BUY HP PRODUCTS” which I broke the handle off of one day, I have a feeling it’s because I’ve never bought anything from HP. The two must be related. I now use whatever mug I can find around but I’m currently switching it up between the CIHR mug and the University of Windsor Mug.

The stuffed penguin I feel, is one of the more important items in my toolkit. He normally sites in between my keyboard and the dual LCD setup on my desk, giving me encouragement during dark times. If I’m getting a bit mad or things are getting out of hand, I just take a second, look into the penguin’s eyes and… *snaps out of it*. Yeah, a stuffed penguin.

Last on the list is aviator sunglasses. These are a part of the toolkit for one reason only: So everyone in the office knows you mean business. When you walk into the office at 9:00am wearing aviators, it’s a powerful statement something along the lines of “I got things under control” or maybe even “I’m super cool”. Either way, it’s a win-win. Get some aviators.

2. PDA/PAA and Laptop

These two tools are both my best/favorite tools and the bane of my system administration career. My laptop is a great tool for when I’m running around and need a second machine to browse the web for answers, check some online reference or if I need a quick CLI to perform some task, etc, etc, etc. There are a lot of valid uses for my laptop at work… but I also have a desktop which I have assigned to myself that performs most of these tasks too, it just isn’t portable. The problem arises from the fact that my laptop is also my main home machine and I end up bringing a lot of non-work stuff to work that tempts me every day, hour, minute and second to play with it. The laptop is an Apple MacBook 1st generation Core Duo 2.0GHz with 1GB of RAM, black of course. Why did I spend money on a color you ask? I wouldn’t be nearly as bad-ass with the white model, geez!

My PDA on the other hand is a great tool… if I used it for EVERYTHING. The second I don’t use it for everything, the system breaks down and becomes a drag more than a helpful tool. It’s going to be a mixed blessing until using that thing is so ingrained into my head that I can’t NOT use it. Until then, I just have to keep battling my bad habits when it comes to using the Sony Clié effectively. I’ve also tried paper and pen but my handwriting almost makes that a futile effort. I can’t help but be disgusted at the awful mess I create when I’m given a pen and a piece of paper.

3. Bag O’ Random Tools

This is a pretty important item in the toolkit. My bag o’ random tools includes all things screwdriver, scissors, some rack-specific tools, anti-static wrist strap that I should use more often, a ratchet-style crimp tool and all in a shoulder strap bag so it can be easily carried to the site of mayhem (if I need the kit, it’s usually mayhem). When necessary, the bag also contains zap straps/zip ties, compressed air and Krazy glue. The one tool that’s usually in a mobile bag/box of tools that I haven’t mentioned is a network tester. My particular position does not warrant the purchase of such a device when we can get the main IT department to diagnose physical network issues if we don’t have the necessary tools.

4. Various USB Flash Drives (and Other Portable Media)

I think this one is fairly self-explanatory if you’re already a sysadmin or have any idea of what a sysadmin does. These things are THE tool to have for carrying around diagnostic utilities, commonly used software or just for quickly moving files around from one machine to another. Of the three USB keys I have they are used as follows: 64MB model for Dell diagnostics, 128MB model for moving files around here and there, 1GB model for commonly used software, quick small backups, public PGP key, system booting, netinstall booting and just plain anything I can think of.

If you’re like me, you rarely pay for these things. You get them free at trade shows, conferences or from your boss on company budget because they are generally very useful.

5. Office Shelving, Books, Trade Magazine, Filing Cabinet

All these things are pretty normal. I have a single shelving unit in my office and it houses books, trade mags, a few random parts, compressed air, black CDRs, etc. This is just my general stuff shelf. I also have a filing cabinet for important paper documentation and to keep our CD library “safe” from prying hands.

Since I’m not a huge trade magazine person or anything, I only subscribe to two of them. As for the books, these are all company books, only some of which are actually useful. I like the Perl one.

6. Spare Parts and Crap Collection

I love my spare parts and crap collection. I love it very much. I’ve spent three years building it up and I’m not about to leave it out of an article about system administration, especially not one about the tools of the trade! I’ve got two shelving units pretty much full of spare parts and other crap. A list of part I keep around:

  • Various cards (PCI, AGP, PCI-X, etc) including Network, Graphics, SCSI, SATA, Firewire among others
  • A Box of CAT5E
  • Spare/Replacement HDDs
  • Zap Straps/Zip Ties
  • Extra Tapes
  • Internal Cables
  • External Cables
  • Obscure Cables
  • Fans and Cooling Parts
  • Chassis Parts
  • Processors and Motherboards
  • Power Supplies
  • Software
  • Drill

As you can see, most of it is labeled and if it’s not… the box is probably just put into the shelves the wrong way. These two shelves are the first place I go if I need any spare parts or cable for a job as it’s the most likely place to find such items. I also attempt to keep it somewhat clean and tidy but after several years, things do sometimes get a bit misplaced or out of order, which is why I sit down and organize it every once in a while.

What’s in your toolkit?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *