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Certification tips for Unix sysadmins

2008-01-01 00:00:00

It takes at least a couple of years for a fledgling sys admin to build up his or her experience to a level where people will say: "Yeah! He's a good sysadmin.. He knows his way around the OS."

Most of the time of your first two or three years (assuming that you start admining in college) will be spent either with your nose in the books (learning new stuff) or with your nose to the grind stone (practicing the new stuff). A lot of time will be spent on basic grunt work, combined with maybe a couple of nice projects and some programming. But at some point in time a dreaded new word will drop on you like a brick from up on high... Management level that is...


At first official vendor certification may seem like a humongous task! Especially if you take a look at the requirements that the vendor publishes on its website and at the sheer volume of the prep-books available. I had the same problem! One day may Field Managers mentioned that official certificates would look good on my resume and that I should go order a book or two... Which I did... And I subsequently try to read three times over... And just could not get through...

You see, I made the fatal mistake of wanting to cram everything in my head before even setting a date for the exam. This gave me way too much slack, causing me to lose interest at least two times over. So, after a bit of coaching from one of my friends/colleagues I came to the following conclusion on how to prepare for certification.

1. Get some experience :) Don't try to get certified immediately after being introduced to a new OS.

2. Take a look at the vendor's requirements for the certificate. These are usually published on their website.

3. Order one, maybe two good study books. I've created a small list of which books are good and which ones should be avoided.

4. Make a rough guestimate on how long you'll think you'll take studying. Don't make this any longer than two months, else you'll simply lose interest.

5. Order an exam voucher from your vendor.

6. Schedule the exam.

7. Start studying.

There's also a couple of other things that can really help you get the knack of things, ensuring that you'll be absolutely ready for the exam:

* Ask your employer to provide a sandbox system: a simple, small server which you are free to tinker with, configure, play with and break. This is an invaluable study tool!

* Purchase an account for a practice exam website (or get your employer to pitch in). The guys at provide damn good test exams for Solaris Sysadmin 1 and 2, at a low price!

Most important of all: don't sweat it! A little excitement or a couple of shivers are good, but honestly: the fate of the world does not lean on your shoulders. If you don't make the exame, try, try try and try again. :)

Good luck! tags: , , , , ,

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Recommended Unix Sysadmin books

2008-01-01 00:00:00

When getting certified, one of the most important tools are your cram sessions. With books.. You know: dead trees? treeware? those big leafy things which you read?... But you gotta know which ones are good and which ones to avoid like the plague.

Sun Solaris SCSA 1 and 2

"Exam cram: Solaris 8 System Administrator" ~ Darrell L. Ambro, Coriolis press

478 pages, comes with seperate cram sheet with "everything you need to know for the exam".

Avoid this one. This is the book it bought at first as it got some good reviews at It was also the one that I tried getting through three times over *ugh* Honestly, the book is written in a very dull style but worst of all: it really isn't that much of a cram book since the author misses almost all of the important stuff for the exams. Way too little detail, so I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but the starting Solaris sysadmin who needs to find a start.

"Solaris: Sun Certified System Administrator for Solaris 8.0 study guide" ~ Global Knowledge, Osborne McGraw-Hill

892 pages, comes with CD containing practice exams and a digital copy of the book.

Now _this_ is what I'm talking about! My colleague Martijn recommended this book and it really _does_ cover everything you need to know to ace the exame, plus a little more. The authors don't brush over any subject and take on each and every topic in detail. Yes, it's a big book and it may take you a while to get through it, but it's worth it. The exames included on the CD are a bit dodgy and are only good for one, maybe two attempts. In any case I recommend that you go out and get an account for a trial exame site.

Sun SCNA (TCP/IP Network admin)

"Sun certified network administrator for Solaris 8 study guide" ~ Rick Bushnell, Sun Microsystems Press

462 pages, no extras

Martijn also tipped me off about this book; apparently he aced the test with this book. I have to admit that the book _does_ take its time in explaining everything to you and that Rick doesn't leave out any details. I have to warn you though that the author also made a couple of mistakes, that he likes repetition (sometimes a little too much) and that at times he underestimates the exame (tells you that you don't need to know what he's about to explain, when you do). All in all a good book, but I'm not too crazy about it. tags: , , , , ,

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SCNA summary

2008-01-01 00:00:00

Back in 2004, when I originally studied for my SCNA certification, I wrote a big summary based on the course books. I thought I'd share this summary with the rest of this world's students. Even though it was meant for the Solaris 8 SCNA exam, it should still be useful. tags: , , , , ,

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Combining net-SNMP and SUNWmasf on Solaris

2008-01-01 00:00:00

In some cases you're going to want to use Net-SNMP on your Solaris hosts, while still being able to monitor Sun-specific SNMP objects. It took me a while to get all of this to work and it's a bit of a puzzle, but here's how to make it work.

In our current environment at $CLIENT we want to standardise all of our UNIX hosts to the Net-SNMP agent software. This will allow us to use a configuration file which can be at least 60% identical on each host, making life just a little bit easier for all of us. Unfortunately Net-SNMP isn't equipped to deal with all of Sun's specific SNMP objects, so we're going to have to make a few big modifications to the software.

Of course packaging all these changes into one big .PKG is the nicest way of ensuring that all required changes are made in one blow, so that's what I've done. Unfortunately I cannot share this package with you, since it contains quite a large amount of $CLIENT internal information. I may be tempted at another time to recreate a non-$CLIENT version of the package that can be used elsehwere.

Re-compiling Net-SNMP

The latest versions of Net-SNMP comes with experimental LM_Sensors support for Sun hardware. Oddly, I've found that you need to drop one version below the latest version to get it to work nicely with Solaris 8. So here's the steps to take...

  1. Download the source code for Net-SNMP version 5.2.3 from their website.
  2. Move the .TGZ to your build system and unpack it in your regular build location. Also, building Net-SNMP successfully requires OpenSSL 0.9.7g or higher, so make sure that it's installed on your build system.
  3. Run the configure script with the following options:

    --with-mib-modules="host disman/event-mib ucd-snmp/diskio smux agentx disman/event-mib ucd-snmp/lmSensors" --with-perl-module

  4. Run "make", "make test" and "make install" to complete the creation of Net-SNMP. If "make test" fails on every check, it is likely that your system is unable to find the requisite OpenSSL libraries. This may be solved by running:

    /usr/bin/crle -c /var/ld/ld.config -l /lib:/usr/lib:/usr/local/lib:/usr/local/ssl/lib

  5. After "make install" has finished all the Net-SNMP files have been installed on your build system. Naturally it's important to know which files to include in your package. To help you, I've created a list of the files that are installed.

Installing SUNWmasf and its components

PLEASE NOTE: SUNWmasf will currently (july of 2006) only get useful results on the following models: V210, V240, V250, V440, V1280, E2900, N210, N240, N440, N1280. On other systems you may have more luck using the LM_Sensors pieces of Net-SNMP. They have been tested to work on E450, V880 and 280R.

As I mentioned earlier Net-SNMP with LM_Sensors can only gather limited amounts of Sun specific information. That's besides the fact that it is also still an experimental feature. So we're going to need an alternative SNMP agent to gather more information for us. Enter the SUNWmasf package.

SUNWmasf and its components may be downloaded from the Sun Microsystems website. Either use this direct link (which may be subject to change), or go to and search for "Sun SNMP Management Agent".

You can opt to install SUNWmasf manually on each of your clients, but it would be much nicer to include it into your custom made package. To have a full list of all the files and symlinks that you should include, you can take a peek at the prototype file I made for the package. It includes all the files required for Net-SNMP.

Installation of the software couldn't be easier. Just run the following command, after extracting the .TAR.Z file that contains SUNWmasf.

pkgadd -d . SUNWescdl SUNWescfl SUNWeschl SUNWescnl SUNWescpl SUNWmasf SUNWmasfr

Configuring SUNWmasf

Go into /etc/opt/SUNWmasf/conf and replace the snmpd.conf file with the following:

rocommunity public

agentaddress 1161

agentuser daemon

agentgroup daemon

Configuring Net-SNMP

The configuration file for Net-SNMP is located in /usr/local/share/snmp. You will need to make a whole bunch of changes over here that I won't cover, like security ACLs, SNMP trap hosts and bunches of other stuff. However, you _will_ need to add the following lines to allow Net-SNMP to talk to SUNWmasf.

proxy -c public localhost:1161 .

proxy -c public localhost:1161 .

Starting the software

Since SUNWmasf relies upon Net-SNMP, it will need to be started after that piece of software. The prototype file I mentioned earlier already takes this into account, but if you're not going to use it just make sure that /etc/init.d/masfd gets called _after_ /etc/init.d/snmpd during the boot process.

Also, I've noticed that SUNWmasf will need about thirty seconds before it can be read using commands like snmpget and snmpwalk.

Reading values from the agents

As you may well know, SNMP is a tangly web of numerical identifiers. I will make a nice overview of the various useful OIDs that you can use for monitoring through both LM_Sensors and SUNWmasf. However, I will put these in a seperate document, since it falls outside the scope of this mini-howto. tags: , , , ,

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Interesting SUNWmasf (Management Agent for Sun Fire) SNMP objects

2008-01-01 00:00:00

In my mini-howto about monitoring Sun specific SNMP objects through Net-SNMP I refered to a few interesting objects which could be read through SUNWmasf.

Unfortuntately I can currently only list details for two of the supported models, since I do not have test boxen for the other models. The following lists are only a small selection from all possible objects, that we found interesting. A full list of available options can be obtained by running:

snmpwalk -c public localhost .

Details about the structure of the various MIBs can be found in other articles in the Sysadmin section of my website. Just browse through the menu on the left. Point is that the lists below only list the OID _within_ the specific sub-trees (for example: . As I said: details on actually _reading_ these values will be contained in another document.

The possible values for service indicators (enterprise.$OID) are:

1 = unknown, 2 = off, 3 = on, 4 = alternating

The possible values for the keyswitch (enterprise.$OID) are:

1 = unknown, 2 = stand-by, 3 = normal, 4 = locked, 5 = diag

Sun Fire V240




.21 .23 .25 and .27

HDD[0-3] Service required indicator



SYSTEM Service required indicator


.33 and .36

PSU[0-1] Service required indicator


.69 and.70

CPU[0-1] Core temperature



SYSTEM Enclosure temperature


.99 and .100

PSU[0-1] Over-temperature warning


.81 .82 and .83

SYSTEM Enclosure fan[0-2] tacho meter


.84 .85 .86 and .87

CPU[0-1] Fan[0-1] tacho meter


.91 and .92

PSU[0-1] Fan underspeed warning


.31 and .34

PSU[0-1] Active (power?)


Sun Fire V440

.28 .30 .32 and .34

HDD[0-3] Service Required indicator


.37 and .41

PSU[0-1] Service Required indicator



SYSTEM Service Required indicator





.98 .100 .102 and .104

CPU[0-3] Core temperature



MOBO temperature



SCSI temperature


.131 and .132

PSU[0-1] Predict fan fault



PCIFAN tacho meter


.122 and .123

CPUFAN[0-1] tacho meter


.36 and .40

PSU[0-1] Power OK


.124 .125 .126 and .127

CPU[0-3] Power fault



MOBO Power fault

Integer tags: , , , ,

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Reading from Solaris SNMP agents

2008-01-01 00:00:00

I have to admit that figuring out how all the parts of SNMP on Sun stick together took me a little while. Just like when I was learning Nagios it took me about a week of mucking about to gain clarity. Now that I've figured it out, I thought I'd share it with you...

First off, everything I will describe over here depends on the availability of two pieces of software on your clients: Net-SNMP and SUNWmasf. See the article on combining the two for further details on installing and configuring this software.

We should begin by verifying that you can read from each of the important pieces of the SNMP tree. You can verify this by running the following three commands on your client system. Each should return a long list of names, numbers and values. Don't worry if it doesn't make sense yet.

snmpwalk -c public localhost .

snmpwalk -c public localhost .

snmpwalk -c public -m ALL localhost .

Incidentally you should also be able to access the same parts of the SNMP tree remotely (from your Nagios server, for example).

snmpwalk -c public $remote_client .

snmpwalk -c public $remote_client .

snmpwalk -c public -m ALL $remote_client .

Please keep in mind that you should replace the word "public" in all the examples with the community string that you've chosen for your SNMP agents. It could very well be something other than "public".

Which witch is witch?

Now that we've made sure that you can actually talk to your SNMP agent, it's time to figure out which components you want to find out about. The easy way to find out all components that are available to you is by running the following command.

snmpwalk -c public localhost .

Let me explain what the output of this command really means... The SNMP sub-tree MIB- contains descriptive information of system-specific SNMP objects. Each object has a sub-object in the following sub-trees (each number follows after MIB-





































In this case all the sub-objects under .2 contain descriptions of the various components that are human readable. What you need to do now is go through the complete list of descriptions to pick those elements that you want to access remotely through SNMP. You will see that each entry has a number behind the .2. Each of these numbers is the unique component identifier within the system, meaning that we are lucky enough to have the same identifier within other parts of the SNMP tree.

An example

$ snmpwalk -c public localhost . | grep Core

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = STRING: "CPU 0 Core Temperature Monitor"

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = STRING: "CPU 1 Core Temperature Monitor"

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = STRING: "CPU 2 Core Temperature Monitor"

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = STRING: "CPU 3 Core Temperature Monitor"

$ snmpwalk -c public localhost . | grep "\.98 ="

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = STRING: "CPU 0 Core Temperature Monitor"

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = OID: SNMPv2-SMI::zeroDotZero

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = INTEGER: 94

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = INTEGER: 8

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = INTEGER: -1

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = STRING: "040349/adbs04:CH/C0/P0/T_CORE"

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = ""

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = ""

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = ""

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = ""

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = ""

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = ""

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = ""

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = ""

SNMPv2-SMI::mib- = INTEGER: 2

Getting some useful data

Aside from the fact that the sub-OID we have found for our object is used in other parts of the tree, there's another parameter that makes its return. The character string in .7 is reused in the SUN MIB as well, as you will see in a moment.

Let's see what happens when we take our sub-OID .98 to the SUN MIB tree...

$ snmpwalk -c public localhost . | grep "\.98 ="

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 2

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 2

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 7

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 2

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = STRING: "040349/adbs04:CH/C0/P0"

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 2

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 3

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = Gauge32: 60000

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 3

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 0

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 1

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 41

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 0

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 0

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 0

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 0

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 97

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: -10

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 102

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: -20

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 120

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = Gauge32: 0

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = Hex-STRING: FC

SNMPv2-SMI::enterprises. = INTEGER: 1

Take a look at Looks familiar? At least now you're sure that you're reading the right sub-object :) The list in the example above looks quite complicated, but there's a little help in the shape of a .PDF I once made. This .PDF shows the basic structure of the objects inside enterprises.

You should immediately notice though that the returns of the command are divided into three groups: ..., ... and ... Matching these groups up to the .PDF you'll see that these groups are respectively sunPlatEquipmentTable (which is an expansion on the information from MIB-2), sunPlatSensorTable (which contains a description of the sensor in question) and sunPlatNumericSensorTable (which contains all kinds of real-life values pertaining to the sensor).

In this case the most interesting sub-OID is enterprises., sunPlatNumericSensorCurrent, which obviously contains the current value of the sensor readings. Putting things into perspective this means that the core temperature of CPU0 at the time of the snmpwalk was 41 degrees centigrade.

Going on from there

So... Now you know how to find out the following things:

You can now do loads of things! For example, you can use your monitoring software to verify that certain values don't exceed a set limit. You wouldn't want your CPUs to get hotter than 65 degrees now, do you? tags: , , , ,

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A closer look at SUN-PLATFORM-MIB

2008-01-01 00:00:00

For some reason unknown to me Sun has always kept their MIB file rather closed and hard to find. There's no place you can actually download the file. You will have to extract the file from the SUNWmasf package if you want to take a look at it.

To help us sysadmins out I've published the file over here. I do not claim ownership of the file in any way. Sun has the sole copyright of the file. I just put it here, so people can easily read through the file. tags: , , , ,

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SAN data migration scripts

2008-01-01 00:00:00

It's been way too long since I used these scripts. I believe they stem from 2003.

I'll need to write some more about them later. For now, know that I used these scripts to prepare for data migrations between local systems and SAN boxen. We moved from local to EMC2, then we moved from EMC2 to HP XP-1024. tags: , , ,

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