I forgot how to manage a server

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Mattias Geniar, May 01, 2019

Follow me on Twitter as @mattiasgeniar

Something embarrassing happened to me the other day. I was playing around with a new server on Digital Ocean and it occurred to me: I had no idea how to manage it.

This is slightly awkward because I’ve been a sysadmin for over 10yrs, the largest part of my professional career.

The spoils of configuration management

The thing is, I’ve been writing and using config management for the last 6-ish years. I’ve shared many blogposts regarding Puppet, some of its design patterns, even pretended to hold all the knowledge by sharing my lessons learned after 3yr of using Puppet.

And now I’ve come to the point where I no longer know how to install, configure or run software without Puppet.

My config management does this for me. Whether it’s Puppet, Ansible, Chef, … all of the boring parts of being a sysadmin have been hidden behind management tools. Yet here I am, trying to quickly configure a personal server, without my company-managed config management to aid me.

Boy did I feel useless.

I had to Google the correct SSH config syntax to allow root logins, but only via public keys. I had to Google for iptables rule syntax and using ufw to manage them. I forgot where I had to place the configs for _supervisor _for running jobs, let alone how to write the config.

I know these configs in our tools. In our abstractions. In our automation. But I forgot what it’s like in Linux itself.

A pitfall to remember

I previously blogged about 2 pitfalls I had already known about: trying to automate a service you don’t fully understand or blindly trusting the automation of someone else, not understanding what it’s doing under the hood.

I should add a third one to my pitfall list: I’m forgetting the basic and core tools used to manage a Linux server.

Is this a bad thing though? I’m not sure yet. Maybe the lower level knowledge isn’t that valuable, as long as we have our automation standby to take care of this? It frees us from having to think about too many things and allows us to focus on the more important aspects of being a sysadmin.

But it sure felt strange Googling things I had to Google almost a decade ago.

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