Ten Technical points that every system admin should know when joining into a new team


You might have already read my old post, 7 social engineering tips that new system admins should know in new team ,where I have discussed the social engineering points that helps you to quickly sync with the new team. And this post is the continuation post for the same topic, and I will be discussing the technical aspects that every system admin should know during his initial phase in his new job. And these rules are same for every one, irrespective of experience that he/she has in the old organization.

Before going to actual topic I would like to highlight one important point: whenever we work for any organization for long time we feel that we are comfortable with the job, and most of the times we will assume that it is our technical skill that is making us comfortable in our existing job but the actual fact is ” it is not our technical skill alone that makes us comfortable, it is our historical knowledge about the current environment added to our technical skill which makes us more comfortable with the current job”.

In simple terms, if you assume your technical skill as “1” then every piece of information that you know about the history of the environment will add a “0 ( zero)” next to the “1” and having more ‘0’s next ‘1’ will improve your value in the job. Whenever you join to a new job, you will be carrying only the “1” with you from old job to new job and the rest of the “0”s you have to re-gain from the new job. So, during initial stage of new job keep your focus to understand the historical information about current environment , from the existing team, whenever you get a chance to discuss about it.

 

1. Know job scope of your team

 

Team scope is something which is very important to know right immediate you join to a new job because it will give you an idea to decide your ‘ priorities of learning’ related to the new job.

For example, if you join into a team in a large organization where the scope of the team is to support a set of servers which have only database but nothing else then your priority will immediately change to understand “how the Database works on Unix , and basics of DB terminology” , at the same time your team not supporting any DNS, NIS, DHCP servers and all of them were under control of different team so you will not worry about those servers in your initial learning.

2. Know about Technical architecture of environment

 

Technical Architecture of Environment talks about below points :

a. How many Total servers( commonly called as “Server FootPrint” ) we are supporting and where they are actually located ( i.e. Data center information ) ?

b. What Operating Systems are in use right now, and what are the supported hardware models?

c. What are the Operating environments that team supporting now? e.g. Production , Testing or Developement

d. What are the applications currently running on our server environment, and who is using them? e.g. sybase, clearcase, weblogic .. etc.

e. What Storage is in use right now, and What sort of Console systems we are using to connect to the Servers remotely? EMC, Netapp, Cyclades Consoles ..etc.

f. What storage management software is in use in which operating systems? e.g. LVM, VxVM , ZFS …etc.

 

3. Know about procedures and escalation

 

Ideally, any system administrator should deal with three types of operations:

a. Break / Fix activities ( Widely known as incidents )

This mainly involves in fixing the issues that encountered in a properly working environment. e.g. disk failure on a server, unix server crashed due to overload, network failed due to network port problem…etc.

b. Changes and Service Requests

Change operations mainly involves, introducing configuration/hardware/application change in the currently running environment either ‘for the purpose of improved stability’ or ‘for the purpose of improved security”, in the current environment.

Service Requests involves performing operations on specific user requests like creating user accounts, changing permissions, installing new server ( called server commission), removing a server( called server decommission) …etc.

c. Auditing the Server environment to identify the Quality of Service (QoS)

This mainly involves periodic checking of all the servers to identify if there are any configuration or security vulnerabilities which compromises the stability of server environment. And remediation of such vulnerabilities by requesting changes in the configuration.

To perform above three kinds of operations , every organization will have internal rules to identify ‘ how to act ? ‘, ‘when to act?’ , ‘what to act?’ . And these rules will vary from job to job, during the initial stage of your job you should understand these rules and perform your duties accordingly.

Note : ITIL ( Information Technology Infrastructure Library) talks about the guidelines to define the above rules in a standard way in any IT related organization. Now a days, major companies streamlining their procedures to meet with these ITIL guidelines so that it will be easy to manage the environment although the people who created that environment leaves the organization. Learning ITIL is always beneficial to system admins( or any Infrastructure Support person).

4. Supporting tools/applications and your access to them

 

To Perform the Support operations discussed in the above point, organizations needs to have proper tools/applications to facilitate their employees and support people to ‘request and respond’ in automated way as per the procedures defined in the organization. E.g. Remedy Ticketing tool , HP Service Manager ..etc.

Once you join to a new team, just make sure you have requested your access to all the related tools in time and tested the access.

 

5. Intercommunication Procedures with Other Support Teams and Vendors

 

Being a System Admin, major part of our day job involves communication with other support teams like. Database Team, Network Team, Application Team, Hardware Vendors, Data Center Support Team … etc.

For successful service delivery, it is important to system administrators to have all of their contact details ( .. like Phone, email and Internal Chat IDs ) handy. So gather the information and make a good document which you can use in your job. It is very important to write down this information and keep it safe, because most of the times the minor issues turns into major problems if we don’t know whom to contact right immediate we noticed the issue.

 

6. Know where to find the information

 

Every Team will have some kind of documentation which explains the operations performed by the team, and this documentation gives you more information than any individual can share to you. Unfortunately, reading all these documents doesn’t help us to understand what is actually going in the job during our initial stage in the team, but the same documents might save your life once you actively start working in the team.

During Initial stage, just gather the information about where the documentation is saved and get the access to it. And quickly go through entire documentation( you don’t need to remember everything you read) , so that you will know where to find the information when you are looking for a specific piece of information related to a specific issue.

 

7. Know Important infrastructure server’s Details

 

Ideally, System administrators will classify their servers in two groups , first set is ‘ the servers which are used by users ( e.g. Database Servers / Application server ) and second set is ‘ the infrastructure Servers which are used to manage the first set of servers effectively’ ( e.g. Jumpstart Remote Installation Servers, DHCP , DNS , NIS , LDAP servers ..etc) .

As i explained in the point 1, you may or may not manage these infrastructure servers depending on the scope of your team, but you must know the details of these servers because every other server in your environment depends on these infrastructure servers.

Below are the important question you can try to find answers, during the initial stage of job:

a. What Name servers( DNS / NIS / LDAP ) we are using, and what are the names / aliases / IPs of those servers ?

b. What remote installation ( jumpstart/ kickstart) servers we are using and our access to them ?

c. Whether there is any DHCP server available in the environment or is it managed by customized tools? E.g. QIP …etc.

 

8. Get Ready with appropriate logistics

 

Every Unix administrator starts his work by requesting his access to a Windows product ( Desktop Access / Outlook ) :) . The moment you join into a new job, start requesting your access to your desktop PC login, Voip phone ( with international dialing if your job requires to call overseas ), Email account, internal Chat messenger access, Data center Access ( if your job requires physical access to DC) , and smart cards / Security tokens …etc.

The moment you get your email access, you may have to manage the flood of emails that is coming to your team every day, you might have to create appropriate Outlook rules to filter out emails which you don’t have to respond during the first one or two months of new job. Later, you can slowly start reading and responding them once you actual ready to work on the floor.

 

9. Areas of Automation, and the specific details

 

System Administrator cannot survive his job if he doesn’t know how to automate the work ( using scripting) that he is doing repeatedly. And whenever you join a new team, you should specifically ask for the information about any automated scripts which in place and used to perform day-to-day job.

Most of the time, system admins make scripts to perform daily/weekly system health checks and they might be running regularly from some specific servers using Cron scheduler. It is better to know them before hand, so that it will help you if you want to introduce your own scripts for the team’s benefit.

 

10. Understanding monitoring alerts and response procedures

 

As I explained in the point 8, you will receive tons of mail the moment you added your email id to team DL ( email distribution list), and major part of the mails could be from automated monitoring system which checks health status of your server environment and informs the system admin team, right immediate it notices an issue. If you are start receiving such mails, don’t just ignore them because you don’t know what to do with them. Actually you have note these alerts and keep raising questions with your team to know how to respond these alerts.

And also keep auto notice reminders in your outlook, for some of the important are alerts which are critical and urgent in their nature, so that you wont miss them.

What your experience says about this, just share with us …

if you see this post useful then share it back, so that some of your friends who are changing their jobs can benefit from this …

Ramdev

Ramdev

I have started unixadminschool.com ( aka gurkulindia.com) in 2009 as my own personal reference blog, and later sometime i have realized that my leanings might be helpful for other unixadmins if I manage my knowledge-base in more user friendly format. And the result is today's' unixadminschool.com. You can connect me at - https://www.linkedin.com/in/unixadminschool/

27 Responses

  1. Sandeep says:

    Good Job Ramdev. Could you please explain me what kind of tools/Software will be used to secure the Solaris OS ?

    • Ramdev Ramdev says:

      Thanks Michael for detailed explanation.
      @Sandeep , When it comes to securing an IT environment, it has to deploy at two levels, one is Network Level security and second one is OS hardening ( i.e. Operating system level security)
      1. Network security implementation is out-of-scope topic for sysadmins but it is always good to know the details. Software / Hardware based firewalls helps to implement network security.
      2. to Implement secured solaris environment , ideally we use no tools instead we just configure the solaris in such a way that it wont allow intruders to easily breach the security. And the details Michael mentioned above are part of OS Hardening.

      Hope this helps

  2. Michael Michael says:

    @ Sandeep It all depends on your infrastruture set up and firewall setup primarily ,If the network infra is well planned and organised and then you dont hv to worry about anything this is how you can secure any of you servers irrespective of OS variants this is applicable only if  your server is been used by the other world (Internet) ,When it comes to solaris ,There are many security aspects to be considered every OS might have security bugs we will not know untill or unless we face them in real time enviornment so in this case updating the server with the latest patches should be helpfull in security breach then moving onto next you can restrict access to the system with certain config files on ftp ssh along with proper logging facilty  ,tuning the the TCP/IP stacks like packet redirection ,ICMP drops ,ARP request reduction ,Possiblites of kernel sneaking is also there ,you can protect them with stack restriction .

  3. sandeep says:

    Thanks Michael and Ramdev for your detail explanation.

  4. Michael Michael says:

    @ Sandeep you are most welcome :-) 

  5. Yogesh Raheja says:

    @Sandeep, Ram & Michael have already provided you with the best possible answer. Here I would also like to add one more point to secure OS security. Your authentication method play a vital role in OS security. Password less authentication is an open invitation to the hackers. Password authentication will secure the OS security but again it depends what mechanism you are using in password  authentication (local users/ or centralized authentication like NIS,NIS+ or LDAPS etc.) but still there are cases where passwords are hacked (thats the reason its recommended to change the passwords regularly and security teams are asking to keep password policies complex). three option which all of the secure customers are using is SECURE TOKEN ID authentication. which will provide you with the maximum secure logins. Hope this will help you.

  6. ramakrishna says:

    can u please provide the information about how to access the multipathing in solaris environment. please help me.

  7. Sateesh says:

    Good work.. :)

  8. Garvit says:

    Nice Post Ramdev.As per point 9, can you share some of basic scripts in your coming posts which are usaually used in Unix ..

  9. Ramdev Ramdev says:

    @Garvit – Sure. I am in the same thought actually. :)

  10. anil says:

    Hi Ram,

    Please provide me the steps to recover the root password for a Sun T3-1. Is it possible to recover it remotely.

  11. Ramdev Ramdev says:

    @anil – Are you talking T3 storage or Sparc T3 processor based servers? If it OS password the one mentioned by yogesh works, for storage you need differnt procedure.

  12. snehal says:

    Awesome post, just loved it….keep posting more how to work smart rather than hard in an IT MNC firm!

  13. seema says:

    Ramdev, Agree and most important for any new team member to understand Environment.
    From My experience, Whenever I join new organisation its important to know “what  are different tech used ” . Your’s and Yogesh Writings always Inspired me. Thanks to Gurkul.

  14. Ramdev Ramdev says:

    Seema, Appreciate your continuous support to our site

  15. prajwala says:

    Ram , would you explain what is Dynamic domain & Logical Domain.
    I am totally confused.

    • Ramdev Ramdev says:

      Prajwala, can you explain what context you are talking about this question. I mean is that you about solaris or network or something else?

  16. prajwala says:

    Hi ram,

    its about solaris specially on M- series servers and T- series servers

  17. Kiran MS says:

    It worked for me while moving to new project…. Thanks anna

  18. ayyappan says:

    It was very useful because i joined new company and i don’t know how to react initially.After read this article,
    i came to know process.

    Thanks Ramdev…

  19. satyam says:

    what you told is very correct.. thanks for briefing

  20. Ratna Amber says:

    Good understanding for the admins who is going to join in IT industry

  1. September 15, 2015

    […] Ten Technical points that every system admin should know when joining into a new team […]

  2. September 17, 2015

    […] Ten Technical points that every system admin should know when joining into a new team […]

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