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I have been offered a job as an 'engineer' for a large tech company - already working as a systems admin for the government.

I wanted your take on how you step into a new job and learn how all the pieces work together. They have approximately 2 racks of gear and some very complicated relationships. What is your strategy for getting a grasp on things? Any preferred tools/methods?

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Ask a lot of questions. –  joeqwerty Feb 14 '12 at 17:21
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How well did they do on the The Limoncelli Test? Did they answer all the questions about documentation/procedures/policies in a useful way? –  Zoredache Feb 14 '12 at 17:43
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2 Answers

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I've been on your position 4 times already, I actually think myself as a fixer :)

  • take notes, draw diagrams
  • ask people what depends on what
  • ask people what is most important and what's less
  • monitor and graph

The most important technical thing is to monitor and scan the network and applications. Monitoring the switches and network equipment will give you a good vision of what are you up to, and scanning the servers will give you a quick inventory of what is running and where.

After that start graphing things, I used Zabbix and Cacti to do that in many places. Scan with nmap, use ntop to get a feel of the network. Use the router sFlow and server snmp if available.

The more you know!

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SFlow, if available, is a very good idea. –  mfinni Feb 14 '12 at 18:29
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Same advice as to someone starting into a new career path of sysadmin-ing : Read "The Practice of System and Network Administration" and make sure all points are covered.

Work with all stakeholders. The business, application users, existing IT staff, DBAs, networks. Find the gaps, and find out if you just haven't asked the right questions to the right people, or have to log into the systems and find the answers for yourself.

Start taking notes, writing hierarchy diagrams, and get going. I use OneNote, but anything similar will do. So will a plain text file, but some bells and whistles are nice. Without spending a crap-ton of money on discovery tools, you can't automate most of this, and you can't automate all of it without knowing it already, unfortunately.

Count yourself lucky it's only two racks: that's nothing.

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I currently work in an environment that has thousands of servers across 17 Data centres...I'm not complaining but that is hardly the point. –  Publiccert Feb 15 '12 at 13:36
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