‘The Practice of Cloud System Administration’ Brings Network Management Down to Earth

The Practice of Cloud System Administration: Designing and Operating Large Distributed Systems, Volume 2By Christina J. Hogan, Thomas A. Limoncelli and Strata R. Chalup Addison-Wesley ProfessionalSeptember 3, 2014, 560 pp.US$43.99 Print$35.19 E-BookThe Practice of Cloud System Administration: Designing and Operating Large Distributed Systems, Volume 2 is a look into IT gone bad in some companies, and how doing it right can salvage enterprise use of cloud computing.

Authors Thomas A. Limoncelli, Strata R. Chalup and Christina J. Hogan make 11 statements about computers and their networks on the first page of the book’s preface. They ask which statements are true. If you get most of them correct, you probably have only one reason left to read this book: It will challenge some of what you hold valid.

However, you most likely will get numerous wrong answers. That says a lot, considering the book targets system administrators and their managers. Still, the authors contend that they wrote the book for everyone, with an interest in building and running cloud-based services on a large scale.

To really relate to the content of this book you do not need a background in computer science. That said, the authors assume readers will have experience with Unix/Linux system administration, networking and operating system concepts.

The Practice of Cloud System Administration focuses on building and operating the services that make up the cloud. It is not a guide book for using cloud-based services.

Refreshing Perspective

The authors have a clear mission, and they present it well. It has a few illustrations and charts, and it is highly tutorial. This is not per se a textbook, however.

The book contains bulleted items to pare down unnecessary verbiage, and the writers do a nice job of controlling the word flow with frequent subheads and mostly short paragraphs.

They do not preach their views on what the industry does right or wrong. However, I could not help but snicker at the behind-the-scenes case studies that sometimes show major IT departments in an uncontrolled frenzy.

Scenic View

The Practice of Cloud System Administration, Volume 2 focuses on distributed, or cloud, computing. It brings a DevOps/Site Reliability Engineer sensibility to the practice of system administration.

Unlike similar books that focus on design or operations in isolation, this book offers a comprehensive approach. The authors position their content around case studies and actual workplace situations in companies including Google, Etsy, Twitter, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon and others.

The authors’ familiarity with these industry giants lets them lay out the situations they describe with an authoritative voice. Their practical experiences are readily applicable to small and mid-sized enterprise operations.

Road Map to Reading

The authors effectively divide the book’s content into two logical parts. Readers get a detailed view of cloud system design and its operations. The level of understanding required is more than a network dabbler can fathom.

Part I details the authors’ views on the design of large, complex, cloud-based distributed computing systems. It’s a more interesting read than merely plowing through textbook material. The authors delve into each design element from bottom to top from the vantage point of sysadmins rather than computer scientists.

Part II demonstrates an insider’s view on how to best run such systems. The chapters progress from fundamental issues lesser-experienced readers easily can follow to technical activities only more experienced network players will comprehend.

The authors include extra material for system assessment for operations teams and templates for forms they mention in the text. This extra material includes a history of distributed computing from the writers’ views, recommended reading and other reference material.

About the Authors

Thomas A. Limoncelli worked at Google NYC for seven years on projects such as Blog Search, Ganeti, and various internal enterprise IT services. He now works as a site reliability engineer at Stack Exchange. Limoncelli also wrote Time Management for System Administrators (O’Reilly).

Strata R. Chalup has been leading and managing complex IT projects for many years, serving in roles ranging from project manager to director of operations.

Chalup has authored numerous articles on management and working with teams. She started administering VAX Ultrix and Unisys Unix in 1983 at MIT in Boston and spent the dot-com years in Silicon Valley building Internet services for clients.

Christina J. Hogan has 20 years of experience in system administration and network engineering from Silicon Valley to Italy and Switzerland. She worked in small startups, mid-sized tech companies and large global corporations. She also served as a security consultant for many years. Hogan has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, a master’s degree in computer science, a doctorate in aeronautical engineering and a diploma in law.

In 2005, Hogan and Limoncelli shared the SAGE Outstanding Achievement Award for their book The Practice of System and Network Administration, Volume 1 (Addison-Wesley).

Bottom Line

This book is a handy companion to its well-received first volume. I am not a system administrator. Nonetheless, I found reading The Practice of Cloud System Administration a very effective knowledge booster about many things I do with computers and technology.

The book’s organization and insiders’ views of how and why things should work make it a very good — and highly enlightening — read.

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him onGoogle+.

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