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I'm wondering about tools that are powerful and that most system administrators either don't know about or don't use (but should).

For one thing, I like the possibility of finding out about a tool that is good and that I should be using - or at least, trying out. I also find that giving these tools their time in the sun (again) can be a positive, letting others know about the wonderful tools that are out there.

Thus, things like sudo, vi, emacs, dtrace, ps, and top are out. I have some ideas but I just hate to skew the statistics...

I'll just wait and see if anyone mentions my favorites.

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There are so many 'what tools' questions, do we really need another? – Zoredache Jun 6 '09 at 9:49
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I just have to ask: if no one's heard of a tool, then how will it get upvotes? – quux Jun 7 '09 at 2:52
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+1 for camera phone. They are also incredibly useful when working with someone over the phone to troubleshoot a problem and there is a long error message on the screen. I wish all remote hands people had/made use of them. – Mark Jun 17 '09 at 18:40
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I've used it to document lights on the front panel and ports on the back panel (in this case, of a DEC Alpha system). – Mei Jun 17 '09 at 23:18
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Please mention one tool per answer. – Cristian Ciupitu Aug 4 '09 at 14:18

74 Answers 74

tcping

From the author: "tcping.exe is a small (Win32) console application that operates similarly to 'ping', however it works over a tcp port."

It's one of the best (OSI Layer 3+) ways to determine whether a host is powered on and connected to the network.

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HTOP as yet another TOP. For Windows; PortQueryUI as a replacement for NMAP.

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Ncat (part of Nmap 5) is a great replacement for Netcat, OpenSSL's s_client and telnet. I used it recently to test and verify an HTTPS connection over IPv6.

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Over the years, I've used the tip of my favorite mechanical pencil for all manner of poking and prodding - everything from reset switches, to RS-232 connector pins, setting dip switches. I've even used it for pulling jumpers on numerous occasions.

jumper Pentel Mechanical Pencil

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Ok, I am baffled no one has mentioned Duct Tape yet. I cant be the only person that uses duct tape to hold things together.

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Windows PowerShell.

Until Windows PowerShell I always was envious about the powerful Linux shells.

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What? Nobody mentioned the dippy bird in front of the photo-cell thingy that switches off the lights when you're not moving?

But ok, one thing that has been very useful to me until only a few years ago was a small coin (pick your nomination, mine was mostly a 1NOK coin simply because that's what I would have in my pocket, living in Norway). Because our Thinkpads had this nice screw for fixing the hard drive assembly that was designed with a head for just a coin like that. Works better than the Phillips or flathead screwdriver I have to use for newer models. Dammit, it was designed that way, and it was good. Thumb screws done right!

Oh, ok, and then there was the one time I wanted to extract the innards of a USB pendrive to put into an ASUS EEE and got (unplanned) help from my tumble dryer. Works sweet on that cheap glue holding the electronics in their plastic casings, better than the knife I tried at first ...

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Another set of tools I am surprised isn't used more - or heard of more - is Performance Co-Pilot. This is an amazing performance monitoring tool, and is available on a number of UNIX platforms. It is a distributed performance monitoring tool with historical recording and history recall - and with an amazing set of rules for alarms and so forth.

The rule engine allows you to do things like: notify me if 80% of the disks in the system are busy 90% of the time over the last 5 minutes; notify me if disk space grows at a rate of more than 1Gb/min; notify me if all processors are more than 75% busy during work hours; notify me of swap space used is increasing more than 5% per second for the last minute.

The tool also allows you to run the programs not only in real-time - even against hosts across the network - but also over an archive file acting as if it was in real-time.

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If you want a cheaper version of hotplug you just need a server with bonding and redundant power supplies =)

get your extension lead going to your new rack location and a network cable that will fill that length, plug them in then disconnect the localised rack power and network, move the server then plug back into the racks new network/power =)

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PuTTy connection Manager! Tabbed Putty!

http://puttycm.free.fr/

alt text

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DBAN

Excellent bootable CD (or floppy) for completely wiping the contents of a hard drive. I use it in two ways:

  1. Zeroing out a hard drive before installing or reinstalling an OS.
  2. Securely wiping a hard drive before shelving it or destroying it.

It's great, and it's easy to use. It runs in about an hour on most of the disks I have ever tried it on, it may require more time for terabyte-class drives, I'm not sure.

This is one example of a good tool that performs one function and performs it right.

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I had a switch go down one night after a huge surge, I used some phone cable wire to bridge the connection. Hmm I still need to get that fuse...

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A vaccum cleaner ! It's always better when you can work in clean environment or remove all the dust that jam the cooling system.

We go this one : alt text

It looks ghostbusters enough so you don't have to be ashamed while working with !

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Big fan of the camera phone over the last couple of years for documenting consoles/error lights on switches/servers. My new favorite tool to carry in my backpack is a FLIP camera. I find it very useful for documenting wire racks/trays, or remote maintenance closets that I need to have a 'view' of from my desk while on the phone with a tech. Plus, it is great to document when someone in the office goes nuts.

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