Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Official Ubuntu Server Book

Authors: Kyle Rankin and Benjamin Mako Hill Format: Paperback, 528 pages Publisher: Prentice Hall PTR; 1st Pap/Cdr edition (July 27, 2009) ISBN-10: 0137021186 ISBN-13: 978-0137021185 I've had this book for almost a month, but have waited to write this review until I could give it the attention it deserves. I'm a fan of The Official Ubuntu Book (now in it's 4th edition), so I eagerly approached Rankin and Hill's production, anticipating the same quality product the desktop Ubuntu book has consistently provided (and no, I didn't think the desktop book was "perfect"). Would this server book be equal to the task? My first assumption, without even opening the book, was that Ubuntu book or no, a server book needs to tell you not only about the ins and outs of the operating system and distro, but about configuring the various server roles (DHCP, DNS, File and Print, and so on). With that in mind, I opened the pages, and went in search of the target audience for this book. My search turned out to be futile, however. I did find a bunch of information I didn't always care to read in the Introduction, though. I expected the usual history lesson, "What is Linux?", What is Ubuntu?" and that sort of thing, but I also got a brief history of Mark Shuttleworth himself, the creation of Canonical, the Ubuntu Community, the various goals (philosophical and technical) and the Code of Conduct for the Ubuntu project. Of course, if that's tied to service and support, I suppose I want to know that sort of thing. Alas, the Introduction didn't explicitly say "this is who should read this book", so I'm left to believe,that the ideal reader is someone who understands or wants to understand the basics of server administration, with an eye on Linux and Ubuntu. Chapter 1 is the expected installation chapter, but don't rush in too fast. The book comes with CDs for Ubuntu 8.04 LTS as well as Ubuntu Server 9.04, for those of you who want to choose between stability and the latest and greatest. This shouldn't affect the installation process as such, just be aware of which version you want to install ahead of time. The Preface does include some additional information about the CDs, including the fact that they harbor the 32-bit versions. Ubuntu server 8.04 and 9.04 both have 64-bit versions as well, but you'll need to download the ISO images from to acquire them. That folds back into the first few pages of the Installation chapter, since you have to "get ubuntu" before installing it. If this were a desktop installation, I probably wouldn't pay too much attention to the installation chapter, assuming I wasn't going to do anything fancy. Since this is a server though, you might (as I did) want to read through it, with an eye on any "gotchas" you'll run into, such as setting up server roles, during the install process. Even going through just this chapter, I got the impression that the book is geared for the newbie (or wannabe) Linux server administrator. If you have some experience in the Linux server (or just the server) admin arena, the challenge for you might only be getting up to speed with Ubuntu's tips and tricks. Although the TOC isn't set up this way, the book actually does seem to be divided into major parts. Chapters 1 through 4 appear to be dedicated to the installation and and set up of the basic server. Yes, you are asked to select a role during the installation process, but before you get that far, it wouldn't hurt to take a look at Chapter 5, since it discusses the details of Ubuntu server roles. Then return to Chapter 1 and see about the actual installation process. If you consider server roles a major "part", all that's contained in chapter 5. The rest of the book (Chapters 6 through 12) seems to be the server administration section, with chapters for security, backups, monitoring, virtualization, and so on. Chapter 13 covers how to get help from paid support, forums, mailing lists, and so forth. In addition to the standard edition of this book, there's a Barnes and Noble special edition that offers Chapter 14 "Basic Linux Administration", as well as an Appendix with a collection of "tips and tricks". The additional content is more "generic" Linux server and not Ubuntu-centric by any means. If you are indeed a Linux server admin newbie, this special edition might be a way for you to get the biggest bang for your buck. The quality of the writing and information seem on par with the desktop Ubuntu book, and while I welcome an "Official" book dedicated to the Ubuntu server, don't expect to become an expert by the last page. This book will get you started on the path of the server admin, but content that's contained in single chapters in the Rankin/Hill book, is available in much more detail in whole books and other resources (DNS and BIND, for example). Don't imagine that a chapter on backups and a chapter on recovery gives you everything you need to know, if you're serious about all this. If you use this book and the discs it contains, to set up your own Ubuntu server, for work or for fun, realize that it's only the beginning.