13 Things that a Unix sysadmin will never do

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Unix systems administrators are an odd lot. We generally love doing somersaults on the command line and we don't like sharing the power, often not even with other sysadmins. We know how special we are just because most of the people we interact with can barely understand the words that we use. At the same time, we generally have work ethics that reveal a deep respect for the systems we manage and the people who use them -- or, at least, for their success in getting their work done on our servers. So here's a list of 13 things that Unix admins just won't do.

1: Share our passwords

More than just about anyone, Unix systems administrators are going to be very reluctant to share passwords of any kind, but will never share our own. It's bad enough if we have to share root passwords with other admins, worse if we have to share them with anyone in our user population.

[Setting limits with ulimit and 14 of the most useful Linux websites]

Between temporary accounts and sudo privileges, we can generally provide anyone with whatever access they are going to need to do any kind of work on the systems we manage. We can give them precisely what they need and nothing more and then take it back when the work is done, generally relieved to be doing so. We never ever have to share out passwords to allow someone else to accomplish a specific task.

2: Run backups in the middle of the day or not do them at all

Unix sysadmins know that backups should always be run when the systems are as quiescent (that means not doing much of anything) as possible. This prevents the kind of problems that occur when files are changing as backups are being made. In addition, backing up a system involves considerable I/O and, often, considerable network bandwidth as well (when the backup device is not connected to the server itself). If we're going to kick up dust, we want to do it when no one is trying to breathe. That said, Unix system administrators won't fail to back up important servers. Avoiding backups would be like not having a spare key to our homes. We never forget that important files can be erased by mistake, that files can be corrupted and that applications can sometimes do funny things. So, we like to set ourselves up so that we can recover from anything that happens. No matter how careless our users may be or whether or not the applications that we support behave themselves, we can make it all work out. We're also generally pretty good about remembering that our protecting our backup tapes is as important as protecting the same data on our servers. We label them, lock them up, and are downright persnickety about who we will trust with the keys to our backup cabinets. And, of course, backing systems up is only half the battle. Unix admins also know that backups need to be tested from time to time to sure that the backups are complete and that anyone who might be tasked with restoring from them has some recent experience in doing just that. We consider verifying as well as labeling our backups to be part of the job.

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