So you want to be a Linux sysadmin?


There is a shortage of good Linux system administrators. Some friends of mine have an interest in helping to fill that shortage, so I have finally decided to embark upon a series of blog posts based on my experience. First, let’s get some things out of the way.


There are plenty of linux sysadmins out there, with varying degrees of experience, and varying methods and opinions. I do not claim to be the leading expert on the subject, I’m just trying to write up what I do know. Constructive comments and suggestions are welcome. People telling me what an idiot I am will have their comments deleted. That said, here are my qualifications regarding Linux system administration. I offer them both to show you I’m not just making this stuff up, and also to give you one example of how people learn Linux sysadmin skills without a formal education or certificate program.

  • I started using Linux in 1998 with a Linux for Dummies book and the included copy of Red Hat 4.something.
  • I’ve run Linux servers in some form and with varying degrees of success since college in 2000.
  • I took about half of a computer science major in college as a double-major until I dropped that to focus on research, next point.
  • When I joined a computational science research lab as an undergrad in fall of 2002, I took over the Linux/Irix system administration for the lab, and started porting old Irix applications to run on Linux.
  • When our lab moved to Johns Hopkins University after Hurricane Katrina, I set up our compute nodes (formerly run by a Tulane sysadmin) as a high-performance computing (HPC) cluster. This was the real beginning of my HPC experience.
  • Shortly thereafter, we ordered a new cluster for the lab. I handled the process of deciding specifications, working with vendors to get quotes and negotiate the deal, and then running the cluster (from Penugin Computing) once it was delivered.
  • After graduating, I did some consulting work for Penguin Computing on a variety of HPC tasks. I think this went pretty well based on the feedback I got from Penguin and end customers.
  • At this point I’m running a high-performance cluster in my garage for my work at CardioSolv Ablation Technologies, and also running my own server hosting this blog and a bunch of other stuff.


  • Just to reiterate: I do not claim to be the leading expert on the subject, I’m just trying to write up what I do know.
  • With Linux, there are usually a minimum of three different ways to do a certain thing or solve a different problems. Every time I work next to another sysadmin I learn stuff from them, and at least a few times they’ve learned things from me. Nothing anyone writes about how to do stuff is gospel.
  • I will not be responsible if you destroy systems or data from following my instructions without understanding them.

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Welcome to Linux

There are many books you can buy and sites you can read that will give you a history of Linux and an overall philosophy for how it works, etc etc. I’m going to assume if you’re reading this that you already know all that stuff and jump right in. In my experience, the best way to learn how to be a Linux sysadmin is to try to make things work. You’ll learn a lot in the process, so I’m going to do this as a series of assignments.

Assignment 1

If you haven’t already, set up a Linux computer or a virtual machine (using VirtualBox, VMware, or the like), strictly for practicing on. I recommend you start with Debian or CentOS, or possibly Ubuntu Server. I prefer Debian, but most popular Linux distributions are based on either Debian or RedHat, so learning either of those will get you off to a good start. To be good at Linux system administration, you’ll eventually need to know your way around both. We’ll get to that (and some other interesting distributions like Gentoo) in later assignments.

Set up this machine with three partitions: /, /boot, and /home. Leave a minimum of 200MB for /boot, 20GB for /, and the rest assign to /home.

When done, you should be able to log in as your primary user (i.e. brock) as well as root, the god-like default system administration account.

Please reply or email me with any questions.

One thought on “So you want to be a Linux sysadmin?

  1. Pingback: Sywtbals? – Assignment 2 | Brock's Blog

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