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USENIX Tenth System Administration Conference (LISA '96)

Using Visualization in System and Network Administration

Doug Hughes
Auburn University


Unix systems have numerous tools that generate copious amounts of data about performance, security, process status, networking and sundry other things; this usually results in the output of raw numbers or text. Visualization of this data can lead to useful insights. Examples include: graphing performance data, customizing tools to make a complex operation easier to understand, and correlating log events according to user-defined rules or patterns. Using visualization in daily activity can help the brain recognize normal and aberrant behavior, make complex tasks easier, and improve workplace efficiency.

The goal of this paper is to detail how simple rapid- prototyping, GUI tools can be used to quickly develop applications to visualize data. This paper also describes the application of visualization to areas of system and network administration. I will attempt to illustrate my own results and experiences developing visualization tools in Tcl/Tk [1] (with various extensions). The design and implementation of four such tools will be discussed and used as examples of visualization applied toward system and network administration. Some have surpassed their original design criteria and provided unanticipated side-effects that enhance their utility.

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Last changed: 8 May 2002 aw
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