LISA '13: Build a Sysadmin Sandbox — Interview with David N. Blank-Edelman

On Sunday, November 3, David Blank-Edelman will teaching a half-day training session at LISA '13: Build a Sysadmin Sandbox. In this interview, he offers a preview of his session. 

LISA '13 early bird registration and hotel discount has been extended until October 22, so register now for the greatest savings.

LISA '13

Rikki: Can you give us a real-life example of a time you used a sandbox?

David: I use sandboxes all the time for exploring new tools and technologies that I am either personally interested in or know will be something I will want to deploy at work in the future. One of the things I've truly appreciated about the DevOps movement in the number of phenomenal system and network administration tools they've created for addressing large-scale challenges. Many of these tools are available in pre-made sandbox form because others in the community have the same desire to play with them before considering using them in a production situation. This makes it really easy to experiment with the tools before using them in a serious fashion. I've also used sandboxes to give me pre-made development environments when I needed to extend something I was running in production.

Rikki: What is a common example of a situation in which a sandbox approach would be useful?

David: Well, see above. Besides this, sandboxes also make for lightweight ways to test "what if?" scenarios. If you can create a functional sandbox that mirrors part of your production environment, you can start to answer questions like "What if I upgrade to the next version of X?" or "What if we used a different log parser?" or "What if I place something under heavy load?" I also really encourage anyone who wants to increase their knowledge and skill level in the field to start building sandboxes to get hands-on training. This is tremendously helpful for people who want to train themselves up for a career move or to advance within their organization.  Employers also love it when you can say "Not only have I solved this problem, but let me show you a working prototype I whipped up."

Rikki: And when should sysadmins avoid using a sandbox?
David: It becomes very seductive to try and press a sandbox into full production use because "hey, it's working, let's go use it!" Because you are typically playing faster and looser around change management, documentation, security, scalability, and other key aspects when you work in a sandbox than you would in real life, this is often a bad idea.

Rikki: What else should attendees expect to get out of your session?
David: I find people tend to leave this class really excited. People who come to class who say "(sigh) no, I never get to try X because in our environment, we can't…." leave feeling that not only do they have permission to go off and experiment to their heart's content, but now they know a number of easy ways to do it. People learn about the places they can find pre-made resources to bootstrap their experimentation ("I wanted to try X, but that look too hard to set up. Wait, you mean someone has already done it for me?"). To my mind, every sysadmin/devops person will benefit by knowing how to create sandboxes that offer places to stoke their natural curiosity and desire to play with technology.

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