Meet your new network admin: The Linux admin (and vice versa)

As Linux takes over the network operating system, the roles of Linux admin and network admin grow increasingly entwined

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These differences mean that admins tasked with working on Linux-based network devices, such as Cumulus Networks switches, will have to contend with quite a learning curve. Unless they're already versed in Linux/Unix concepts, the overall playing field will look wildly different and cause quite a bit of initial consternation. Network admins will know what they need to do in order to implement and configure OSPF, for example, but they might face a significant challenge in implementing those changes. On the flip side, Linux admins will obviously be right at home on the switch, but they may lack enough knowledge of OSPF to make the right changes.

The fact of the matter is that while there's a wide range of deep networking functionality within Linux, it isn't used by most Linux admins. The vast majority of Linux servers have an extremely simple network configuration: a few live interfaces with fixed IPs, perhaps a bonded interface here and there. While those servers could obviously handle OSPF and BGP, there's no need for that, so it's unused. This is the separation presented by merging these two functions into a real networking platform.

A two-way street

It's hard to gauge which side would have an easier time assimilating to Linux-based network switching. Clearly, it's a network admin's job, and Linux admins should stick with actual servers. That said, the combination of these skill sets provides a benefit to just about all involved. If network admins become more comfortable with Linux administration and Linux admins become more knowledgeable about networking concepts and routing protocols, that can only lead to good things all the way around.

Of course, the upshot of running Linux on network devices is that if you wanted a restricted CLI to handle configuration tasks, you could simply write one. It's just Linux, after all. Fire up an editor and write whatever you need. The same goes for running other custom code and performing tasks. Want to gather stats, mash them around, and ship them off to a server for processing? Sure. Script it up, throw it in cron.

Ah, but scripting is generally the domain of Linux admins, not network admins, and we see that if networking moves in this direction, we may simply dispense with the distinction altogether. Network admins will necessarily be Linux admins, and vice-versa.

That is a whole new world indeed.

This story, "Meet your new network admin: The Linux admin (and vice versa)," was originally published at Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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