Thursday, March 19, 2009

HowToForge: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Linux (and other things about server administration)

HowToForge's web site:


Virtualization is a growing trend in server administration that will probably not disappear in the near future. Virtualization is fast becoming the solution that IT departments choose for their server infrastructure because corporations are looking to reduce their IT expenses, as well a reduce their carbon footprint. If you are studying server administration, you should try to get some practice with setting up virtual servers.

HowToForge is one of the most comprehensive instructional sites that I have seen on Linux. Not only does the site contain an extensive library of "how-to" documents for the various distros of Linux, but it also contains an extensive
library of "how-to" documents for other technologies related to server administration, such as: MySQL, Samba, e-mail servers, FTP servers, and virtualization. For the programmers, HowToForge contains tutorials in C/C++ and PHP. For a very small subscription fee, you can have access to a treasure trove of "how to" documents that you can download to your personal machine.

This site is ideal for instructors, students and IT professionals.

  • Students: Your classes teach you the foundations of using the particular technology. However, you may be ready to gain more practical, "real world" experience with the technology. The "how-to" guides give you practical application experience with the technology. For example: you can learn how to replicate MySQL servers; you can learn how to set up a Fedora 10 desktop machine that can replace a Windows machine; you can set up a virtual server on Debian; and you can learn how to perform computer forensics using tools for Linux.

  • Instructors: A number of these "how-to" guides can be used as additional lab exercises in your class. While "standard" lab exercises give the student a foundation in the technology, the "how-to" guides give the student more practical, "real world" application experience beyond standard lab exercises. I've used a few of the Fedora how-tos as project exercises and "challenger labs" for extra credit.

  • IT Professionals: Although the Internet has made our job easier when it comes to researching how to do something, it is still time consuming. Besides spending time on trying to find the information, you may have to spend additional time performing "trial and error" testing because the information that you found was incomplete or obtuse. HowToForge contains a numerous amount of instructional documents for Linux and server administration, and the instructional documents are clear and precise. Based on personal experience, I have saved a lot of time thanks to these documents. As a result, I am more productive at my job, which impresses my supervisors, which translates to more rewards and increased benefits(bonuses, raises, etc.).

For those of you who are trying to build their portfolio, HowToForge also has a Contribute section where you can contribute your own instructional documents. If the site chooses your document for publication, HowToForge gives you a free 1 year subscription.

HowToForge also has a forum where you can post your questions, comments and suggestions. If you have a question on one of the instructional documents, you can post the question in the forum. I haven't used the forum myself to post questions or answers, but I have read the forum. In this forum, I've noticed that the community answers questions quickly, and the community is friendly and helpful. I have noticed from my readings and from my students' experiences with other forums that, unfortunately, many contributors on other forums are arrogant and curt, which could intimidate a student who is learning a technology. I've seen posters who brusquely told the question-asker to "look it up" or "google it" before asking a question, and I've seen some posters resort to name-calling (ex: calling the question-asker a n00b)! I haven't seen that kind of behavior on the HowToForge forums at all.

I highly recommend this site. I use this site myself as a "one-stop shop" for Linux and server information. For the price of a magazine subscription, I get valuable, detailed information that I can't get in magazines, and if I had a question about the instructional document, I can get an answer quickly.

The current price for a 6-month subscription is 25 Euros (approx. $34 USD based on the current exchange rate as of this writing). The site uses PayPal for their online payment transactions. If you don't have a PayPal account, HowToForge accepts a major credit card or a debit card with a major credit card logo through PayPal. If you are purchasing a subscription and you are outside of the EU, PayPal may charge a small, additional fee for currency exchange.

If you are an IT professional, check with your company's benefit plan to see if it reimburses employees for paid subscriptions to professional/technical journals or websites. Your company may be able to pay for the subscription.

To subscribe, please visit the HowToForge site.

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