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August 25, 2004

IT Department in a Box

I like the idea of this a lot. It would be so handy to have a CD I could bring with me for setting up a machine with this stuff in one step.

Commentary: Project Idea: "IT Department In A Box"

It's dawned on me that a great many small sites (and possibly big sites too) would be greatly helped if someone made a single box that included:

  • RequestTracker
  • Some kind of up/down monitoring system like Nagios or BigBrother
  • Some kind of capacity planning monitor like Cricket or MRTG
  • TWiki or other Wiki, with a pre-built set of pages
  • A serial console system like Conserver.com
  • Bacula or other free backup system

While none of those are difficult to install for an experienced Linux person, the goal would be a system that the common "Mr. Fixit" kind of sysadmin that serves small sites would be able to load a CD-ROM and have the entire machine working very quickly. Each application would be pre-installed, and pre-customized. For example, the install procedure would ask for the IP address of a few key servers, and Nagios would default to monitoring it. The Wiki would have pre-configured pages that include add/remove/change procedures the above items (how to add/remove/change a server that Nagios monitors, add/remove/change a file system that Bacula is backing up, etc.). [Everything Sysadmin]<./p>

The thing I'd add to this is that the whole thing would come with a good set of docs on paper on how to use everything. While you can always go and print something like that off. I just like the feel of a real book for docs at times (I hate reading things on screen). I'd also even expand this idea some. How about a series of CDs for different purposes (firewall?). Tools like this would be really handy for people who are maybe doing part time sysadmin work for a small company (and as the post says, even big ones).

Posted by snooze at August 25, 2004 06:27 PM


I've been wanting to do something like this since I did a small office network installation at my last company. Every task was individually very simple, and the entire system was easy to maintain when finished, but in total it took a lot of time to research, locate, compile, and integrate all of the components.

My concept focuses on a services-based view (i.e. breaking down common network services like DNS, DHCP, print services, file services, etc. etc. etc.) and leave open the ability to scale by division, i.e. splitting off a service easily onto another server, if load warrants it. I definitely wanted ticketing, monitoring, etc. as part of the core services! My idea was to have it be easy to turn services off and on, that all the services would naturally integrate with each other (easy enough to set up if you plan it) and not step on each others toes, and to have it be very easy to install off a CD or the network. Really, the bulk of the value-add is just scripting, documentation, and packaging.

I was going to use FreeBSD as my base OS just because I like it best, and possibly either have a porting handbook or, in my copious spare time, port it myself to Linux and Solaris.

Of course, time is the bane: I didn't work on it while I was working because I was, well, busy with work stuff. I did always have it at the back of my mind, though, and imagined how I would scale down a distributed redundant centrally updated DNS scheme for an office scenario. I don't work on it now because it's a struggle for me to do common everyday things, leaving out the amount of planning and scope of this project.

But all is not lost! Once I am steady-state on handling simple everyday stuff, which I'm getting better at, I think it's possible to do this as an interstitial project, where I could leave the heavy lifting for the few hours of the day where I have the energy for it. There's a lot of incremental and small-task jobs that make up this project. I have a decent house network setup to practice it on, too. I think it's still something I'm deeply interested in, and may be a good way for me to try to transition back into working at a pace I can handle.

I may want to just get involved with a group that's doing it, but I'm worried that I'd be too opinionated and stuck in my own ways to contribute really well. :) Also, because of my background at Sun, I think I have a useful packaging- and service-oriented approach that I'd want to bring to it, but I'm so slow right now that my pacing would infuriate anyone else. I want to think about the packaging and services unrushed.

A sweet spot is the 10-100 person company. It's a common size and often doesn't have extremely knowledgeable IT staff, so it would definitely benefit from "IT in a box."

Posted by: Flit at August 26, 2004 08:23 PM

Hey man, this is knowmadAE from RG (beastinpiglatin from LJ).

I was checking out RT and they make a brife comment on a Windows port, do you know anything about this? I had installed Sysaid (for ticketing and asset management) and it wouldn't allow any Adobe products to work (lovely). Our site is hosted on a Linux server but the "man" wants the ticketing system to be kept inhouse on our Windows 2003 server so that it can be locally accessed along with our intranet.

Posted by: Gabriel at September 17, 2004 05:52 PM

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