Giving away the secrets

Unix Insider –

I am frequently asked questions such as, "Where can I get information on the March network auditing and scanning tool?" Sometimes I know the answer, in which cases I seem smart. But often I don't. Rather than give that response to the question poser and seem dumb, I check my resources. Almost all of the time, the resources have the answer, so I can continue to seem smart.

Not everyone would admit this to his or her faithful readers. Now I seem dumb again.

But my loss is your gain. This month, I'm revealing the best information sources I've found on the Web. These sources will provide you with a lot of information, either in push mode (mailing lists) or pull mode (reading and searching). Using these resources can help you seem, and actually be, smart.


Because you're reading this, it's likely that you already know about the Unix Insider and newsletters. However, this article may show up in a variety of venues, so I'll include a little information here. Unix Insider is a premier Web resource for Unix users, administrators, and managers. It includes articles, columns (like this one), and news related to Sun, Solaris, and the other Unix vendors. Back issues are online and searchable, and they contain a wealth of information. The newsletter mailings contain up-to-date information on topics such as security and systems administration. Hopefully, it's already your first stop when seeking information about Sun, Solaris, and other Unix companies.

Sun maintains a Website as one of its major communications channels with its partners and customers. On the site is information about products, product details, Sun news and happenings, and even a Sun store from which to get logo-wear! The site doesn't change rapidly, but it is complete and usually up-to-date.

There are also white papers and other useful documents at the site. For example, there's a very nice paper in pdf format, detailing how Solaris handles memory.

Sun also maintains a portal site, which the company hopes will be your homepage. Even if it isn't, it can be a primary source of everything Sun. It can be customized to reflect your specific areas of interest, and is well worth a look.

For the latest information about Sun bugs (and there seems to be quite a few of them), sunsolve is the place to be. It's highly searchable, has detailed infodocs to explain the eccentricities of many Solaris facets, and can even be programmed to email you when a topic of interest changes. For example, if a specific patch is of interest, the site can alert you whenever the patch is updated. It's a must-visit.

For the office source for Sun documentation, visit As Sun ships fewer manuals with its systems and software packages, this site has become indispensable for looking up Sun and Solaris information. It has manuals and man pages for all recent releases of Solaris, and is very searchable. The searches can return a lot of hits, but they tend to be sorted by relevance, which helps. The site tends to be slow, which should be embarrassing to Sun.

Of course there are many other vendor Websites. Veritas has quite a bit of product information and several white papers.

For general systems administration information, UGU cannot be beat. It has information on just about every operating system in use, and links to a great variety of useful sites. This is quite a site, but watch out, it's easy to get lost there for hours.

TechWeb is another all-IT news site. It has current news (not just Sun-specific), and links to downloadable files.

For a handy weekly mailing of all interesting Sun happenings, subscribe to SunSystemNews ( This publication is managed by John J. McLaughlin, a Sun employee and all-around good guy. Subscribing to it is the best way to automatically receive all Sun announcements and other official Sun news. For example, when Sun announces a new product or service, the details are usually found here first.

Another must-visit is, a Dot-com Builder site run by Sun, bearing the tagline, "Working knowledge for building sites on Sun." It contains articles about Sun customer successes, Sun news, best practice papers, and community discussion groups on a wide variety of topics. This site is new to me, but I plan to spend quite a bit of time here.

Finally, is a Solaris-centric Web portal. It scours the Web for interesting Sun and Solaris information and collects the links together at one central location. The editors at SearchSolaris then analyze, prune, and comment upon the links. Especially useful is the collection of FAQ pointers. This should be your first stop, after Unix Insider of course!

You can also request that weekly informational emails be sent your way to show the current site contents. Here's a recent header, for example:

January 15, 2001

Dear Member,

Here are this week's highlights of upcoming news and events:

* Book of the Week

* New Site Highlight


* Online Events

* Salary Survey

* Best Solaris Web Links

The contents delivered to you are configurable, as is the receipt of the email itself.

Other mailing lists

For general news, The New York Times is the source of information about New York, the United States, and the world. They have an email service that sends the headlines from the New York Times each morning.

For technology news, Information Week maintains both a news-oriented Website and a mailing list to drop technology news into your inbox every morning. The content is more PC-oriented than Unix-oriented, but both areas are covered.

For security news, the best mailing lists include SANS and (of course) CERT. To subscribe to SANS, you need to email SANS tends to have a lot of ads for its activities, but otherwise has useful and up-to-date information. CERT's information is more refined (and more stale), but is a must-read if you run any facilities in which security matters.

Rather than have news pushed at you, of course, you can set up a portal at Yahoo, Excite, or the like. A quick visit to the site can give you everything you're interested in, at a glance.

Networking with friends

Of course, not all answers are published. There is information that is not yet documented, late breaking, or too complex to be covered via these resources. At that point, it is time to utilize the network. No, this does not refer to the Internet. Rather, it refers to the smart people you know. These are the folks you work with (or used to work with), or have met at conferences or via the Internet. Most people enjoy helping out their fellow systems person, so you should feel free to use those resources in a pinch. Of course, it's better to give than to receive, so you should be prepared to return the favor. Otherwise, you'll find that the network shrinks rather than grows.

Be smart, use the resources listed above, and the network, and get the answers to your burning questions. You may find answers to questions you hadn't even thought to pose. Of course, this column started by describing a question and how useful the Web was in finding answers, and finished by espousing the power of a good network of technical friends. The irony is that none of these sources could answer the question! But after scouring Web and friendly resources, I can safely come to the conclusion that either March is a private tool not available for general use, or it is a red herring and doesn't exist. I still learned (and you can too) from the experience, though, as Carole Fennelly points out that Greg Shipley and Jeff Forristal of Neohapsis wrote an excellent article comparing vulnerability scanners for Network Computing.

More interesting reading

When looking for useful information, don't forget the value of the Unix books on the market. Some are discussed in last month's column. Although books tend to become outdated quickly in high-tech areas, their density of information is tremendous. And they come in that convenient book size and shape that has proved its utility over the last couple of centuries.

Bugs of interest

If, when inserting a CD-ROM into a Solaris CD drive, you actually want to see the contents, don't install the Solaris 7 kernel patch 106541-13 and -14 (thanks to Aaron Brace and Kyle Oliver of Corporate Technologies for tracking this down). Those patches include a bug which make

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-mounted CD-ROMs appear to have no contents. The workaround is to disable
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and manually mount the CD-ROM.

Next month

Next month I plan to cover a major topic of controversy: how best to mirror the root disks of Solaris systems. Which is best, DiskSuite or Veritas Volume Manager? How can they be made to work together? I'll include a method for allowing Volume Manager to use a 1 MB slice of disk as its rootdg, so it can be happy without allowing it to take over an entire disk. Tune in and find out how.

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