Readers' choice: What every small-business sysadmin needs

The essential toolkit


Sysadmin blog In response to a previous article, a number of readers have submitted their views on essential systems administration tools. A few responses stand out from the rest.

Michael Wilkinson rightly rebukes me for not including hardware tools in the discussion, with the BOFH's signature cattleprod being first to mind. Malle-herbert adds that every sysadmin should have "a decent selection of screwdrivers, multimeter, network cable-tester etc."

Reader dan1980 joins the conversation with a hardware start as well, but expands to quite a useful list. This sort of constructive, thoughtful and relevant comment is typical of dan1980 and is why this reader has become one of my favourite commentards, especially when we disagree with each other. His toolkit contains a Cisco console cable a USB/serial adapter and a laptop USB KVM switch.

All of these are good suggestions and are exactly the sort of things I have added into my desk and drawers on wheels, lovingly known around the DC as the crash cart.

If we are doing the hardware thing, however, I want to add magnet on a stick as a must-have. It is a fantastic tool for getting the screws you drop down the rack while trying to mount kit.

For that matter, making sure you have huge buckets of all the screws, bolts, latches and deity-knows-what-else you need to attach kit to the racks are a must as well.

There is nothing worse than planning an outage to add some nodes and re-cable a bunch of things only to discover that you are missing that stupid proprietary flange thing that needs to latch into the square hole so that your round screw can attach a rack-mounted switch with hexagonal attach points.

Having recently redone my testlab's rack, I'd like to take a moment out to recognise Dell's PowerConnect 8132F for having the best railkit of my career. Screwless, painless, breathtakingly simple. No magnet on a stick required.

Software for all

Dan1980 continues adding value to the world with his software suggestions. He starts by mentioning Process Explorer and Process Monitor and Autoruns and Disk2vhd. I am going to go a bit further here and say that every sysadmin who deals with Windows at all should have the entire Sysinternals Suite to hand at all times.

Dan1980 adds DumpSec, ForensIT User Profile Wizard, TreeSize Free and Notepad++. All of which are good suggestions, though Notepad ++ has a special place in my heart for the innumerable hours it has saved me.

For seldom used tools, dan1980 recommends saving instructions to your USB drive "to help in those instances where internet access is affected and thus [you] find [yourself] sans-Google. It's as easy as just saving the HTML page – usually sufficient to get you through."

A good idea and Future Trevor will thank Present Trevor for following that bit of advice, I am sure.

In the article, I talk about "entropy assurance" (password generation and storage) as being important. One of El Reg's irrepressible Anonymous Cowards believes that I "may well agree to set stuff on fire if he can get good random numbers out of it". There may be something to that line of reasoning.

Reader John Gamble has a slightly more practical suggestion in the form of Lavarnd (randomness from a lava lamp) and Hotbits. Hotbits claims to be "genuine random numbers, generated by radioactive decay".

Reader moiety recommends Axense NetTools and IntoDNS. DMDeck16, however, points out that IntoDNS is not quite as useful as it could be as it doesn't handle IPv6 AAAA records.

Zacherynuk gets back to basics with timeless classics. PuTTY, WinSCP, RunasSPC and PureText make the list, as do WakeMeOnLan and AngryIP Scanner.

Also on his list are the universally acclaimed Ninite and Microsoft's connectivity test site.

Reader gerdesi doesn't pull any punches, writing: "If you don't monitor your systems you will be toast." Couldn't have said it better myself. In addition to finding a monitoring tool that you can work with at a network-wide level, gerdesi recommends Netdisco for those who have equipment that uses CDP as well as both Wireshark and nmap.

Centralised logservers are on gerdesi's list as well, with Logstash, Graylog2 and Elasticsearch making up the core of his recommended solution.

Next page: That personal touch

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