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>AUUG–The Organisation for Unix, Linux and Open Source Professionals

President's Column

The view from the top, by David Purdue

David Purdue

Liff — Actually, this word does not seem to have a meaning.

To paraphrase Douglas Adams, I.T. is big.  Really big.  I mean, you may have thought there was a lot of information in your local bookshop, but that's nothing compared to I.T.

This issue of AUUGN ships with the complete source code for Sixth Edition Unix, along with the Lions Commentary.  That harks back to a much simpler time, doesn't it?  When it was possible for one programmer to understand (and manipulate) everything from the kernel of the operating system through to the system utilities and end user application programs.

What does our modern I.T. environment look like—let's visit a typical data centre.

First of all there is the computing hardware.  This could be large SMP systems with lots of processors, or arrays of simpler systems with 1-4 processors, or even blade arrays—rack upon rack of very compact single processor systems.

Chances are that attached to these compute engines are separate storage subsystems, that need their own configuration.

These systems will be connected together by a network—probably involving a variety of network devices, from hubs and switches through to routers, possibly load balancers and firewalls.

Then we start talking about software.

The computers will have operating systems, which will require their own configuration and maintenance.  Layered on top of the OS will be all sorts of applications: database management systems, web servers, mail servers, application servers, content management systems, and so on and so forth.

At any single point in this data centre there are a myriad of decisions to be made: what hardware do I use?  Do I scale within a system or by employing multiple systems?  Do I need a load balancer?  What OS do I use?  What network architecture will join these together?  What DBMS?  What application software?  Should I develop?  If so, what language?

With so many aspects to I.T. we tend, as professionals, to specialise, to become an expert in just configuration of operating systems, in architecting and deploying storage systems, in developing in a particular language.

So how are sensible decisions made about bringing all the components together?  How are the best choices made for each component and then brought together taking into account issues of security, performance, and usability?

Do we need specialist generalists?

It is because of the range of skills required in the modern I.T. environment that it is important for I.T. professionals to participate in a community.  We specialise; we have to.  But unless we have some exposure to disciplines outside our own expertise, and can identify people who are knowledgeable in other areas, we can not see how our expertise fits into the big picture, and thus will be less effective as I.T. professionals.

David Purdue
President, AUUG Incorporated