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Making Sense of System Performance

A number of old-fashioned tools can prevent very
modern problems

Day in and day out, system administrators are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock? Heat from management, senior staff, users, and, well… everybody. The hard place? Hardware failures, service interruptions, virus infestations, memory hogs, runaway processes, zombie processes, and processes that inexplicably die without warning.

Of course, some failures are to be expected– and those are typically tolerated– but a failure that’s perceived as preventable can spawn an outright user revolt. The worst offense? Allowing a system to exhaust its capacity. Ironically, preventive maintenance is often quickly abandoned to deal with the emergency of the day or hour.

However, you can avert a great number of problems if you have the right tools and just a modicum of time (between crises). Here’s a handful of system utilities and a few quick techniques that should make your life easier. Yes, easier.

If you had the cash, you could literally spend tens of thousands of dollars on commercial performance monitoring tools that are absolutely state-of-the-art. But if your already-stretched-too-thin-budget can’t afford another high-end solution, a number of “old school” — command-line and text-based — tools can suffice. Sure, the tools can’t draw pretty graphs, but the utilities can help make your system the picture of health.

The sysstat package, written and regularly updated by Sebastien Godard, is one of the “old school” tools you should pick up and learn. sysstat captures system performance “snapshots” that help you find, diagnose, and repair problems. Table One presents…

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