Originally Published: Tuesday, 14 March 2000 Author: Melanie Burrett
Published to: interact_articles_jobs_profiles/Job Profiles Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

"Where do you want to go today?" With Linux, I'm already there....

In this interview Mike Ireton talks about what it is like to be the Senior Systems Engineer at an ISP/ASP that primarily works with Linux.

"I've got a way cool linux job that you may find interesting. I work for an ISP / ASP that deploys Linux based servers to business clients in commercial office space. As the senior system engineer, I spend most of my time at home hacking Linux and our server platform software, and also remotly managing and administering our network of T1 connected servers."

Linux.com: What is your position called, and what kind of tasks does it include?

"My official title is 'Senior Systems Engineer', which really means, 'the guy that does everything'. We are an ISP turning into an ASP, and so there's a lot of jobs I do that don't fit neatly into any one catagory. I manage everythging that we as an ISP do, and I also manage the servers we deploy at the customer premesis. I also develop software for our server platform."

"In no partciular order, my duties are like this: Manage, maintain and administer the network. This includes supporting numerous T1's (17 and growing) in and around San Francisco/Oakland, managing the routers they connect to back in our colo cabinent, allocating our address space, troubleshooting and resolving network issues (loss of connectivity, low peformance, etc). I also am the DNS administrator and the postmaster for the customer base. DNS administration involves setting up new domains on our primary/secondary name servers, removing them, making changes to the zones in response to customer requests, and ensuring that our nameservers remain healthy. Being postmaster involves some DNS things (making sure that the primary and backup mail exchangers are correctly listed and that we are giving out correct answers), it also means monitoring our mail servers for proper operation and chasing down mail problems when they arise. I also wear the emergency pager that's connected to our network monitor system."

"I am our security czar as well, which means I'm responsable for keeping our systems and network secure. This means reading several security related lists, regulally visting security related web sites (security focus, packetstorm, rootshell, and others), sweeping the network regulally with cracker tools, and applying software patches as necessary to keep us up to date and immune to the various buffer overrun and other exploits out there. I've also launched more agressive attacks specfically aimed at our own systems and processes in an effort to break in and find out where we are weak (And to my credit I was able to get root via a few attacks I invented on my own). So I also developed security patches, and I remain the central point of authority for system security related issues."

"I'm also heavily involved in developing our server platform - putting together the packages, doing the integrations work, refining the various bits that make it go. This is mostly all about being a good programmer and working extensively with other people's code, defining the standard configurations that we'll use as well as writing utillity helper applications to interface these to cgi scripts so users can manage their own services from a web browser. There's really too much to go into."

Linux.com: What role does Linux play in your organization? Is it used for servers only, employee workstations, and/or developer platform?

"Everything we do, is linux. We're strong belivers and so we put it everywhere we can. Every T1 connected server we deploy, is really a Linux box. The routers in our network core, are also Linux boxes with dual 8-port T1 cards installed. Our name servers and mail servers are also linux based. The entire network is Linux."

Linux.com: How did you initially get involved with using Linux?

"Someone I know wound up with a very early cut of Slackware on cd, and gave it to me thinking I'd wanted to maybe try it out. This was in... '94? And so after spending several hours reading the docs on the cd, I did my first installation via NFS if you can belive that. It just worked, I was amazed. I threw out OS2/warp (which I'd had to re-install some 30+times from floppy disk because of non-repairable system problems would develop that couldn't be corrected. Something like a blown Windows registry...). I've been using it ever since and I've never looked back."

Linux.com: Why Linux?

"Linux is open in a way that makes it approachable. You don't have to bepart of some clique to get your ideas heard, and generally the community that surrounds Linux as opposed to other *nix operating systems seems to be one that I more readilly identify with. I know that I could do probbly most if not all of everything we are doing today with some other *nix system, but the fact remains that I feel comfortable here in the Linux world, I've got confidence in the mainline (and not so mainline) developers and the quality of the code being produced, and I haven't been let down yet."

Linux.com: What is your daily work schedule like? "I am a telecommuter and mostly work from my home office. Since we're small, growing and very under-staffed, my daily schedule goes all over the place. I have some current projects I am working on, but then I also have to do my share of customer support, and that can get really nuts sometimes and completely blow my project time out of the water. So it's a mixture - some days I get to really focus on project work, other days it's as if I have a phone growing out of my head. All totaled I probbly put in 90 - 100 hours a week, and this includes evenings and weekends. Evening times are when I get more project oriented work done (it's damn hard to focus on something really technical if that blasted phone keep ringing!) and also late night is sometimes reserved for system maintinence activities (like 2am and I need to reboot the routers for a kernel upgrade)." Linux.com: What project are you currently working on?

"Better ask me, what projects am I *not* currently working on... hahaha. Actually, here's the list of hot items I'm working on: 802.1Q vlan support and integration into our building infrastructures. There's a new 802.1q driver for Linux, and that's a protocol that switches to group ports together across many different switches to create virtual lans. In our application, we want to use 802.1q so that the switch is actually just an extended ethernet port and can be independently addressed (imagine a linux box with 96 ethernet ports in it, each with their own unique routes, ip numberings, set of services offered and etc...). Although I'm testing the driver and testing several brands of switches to determine the best combination and our integration strategy, this is also something I will actively be developing on. This will include writing some pam modules for vlan-based authentication, as well as working with samba, dhcp, and others."

"We're becomming victims of our own sucess and are running out of room at our colocation facillity. Although our routers are running Linux and we love it, we need to have a higher density solution in place, which means taking in all out T1's (17 and counting) over channelized DS3, and nobody makes a channelized DS3 adaptor. So I've sourced equipment and we're going to replace it with a Cisco 3662 and a port aggragrator to turn our T1's into a DS3. Since we're live and in production, I have to draft a transition plan to get us onto the new hardware with the minimum amount of down time (< 1 hour). "

"We've also grown to a point where static network routing just isn't cutting it any more and we now have to implement dynamic routing. We need to implement both OSPF with our remote ends, and the BGP with our upstream provider. OSPF is becausee there are sometimes multiple connections to the network core. BGP because we want to be dual attached for redudancy purposes, and also for more optimal internal routing."

"Our server platform is constantly changing in response to what we learn by having it out in the field. I've currently drafting a spec for our 2.0 release, which will incorporate a lot of new technologies (like the 802.1q support) and become more stable and higher peforming. Unlike lots of software releases, we don't do bloat." Linux.com: What's the best part of your job?

"Telecommuting. Being able to half-jokingly tell people that my office is 'clothing optional'...*grin* Having customers who refer to me as Mr. Bandwidth..."

Linux.com: What's the worst part of your job?

"Not having enough people do do all the jobs that need to be done, which means I'm at the insane level of responsability to ensure things get done, at the expense of my personal life. I'm looking forward to the day that when the weekend comes, I can actually go do something other than work."

Linux.com: Is there anything cool the readers of this article should know about you, your job, or your company?

"Well, we're hiring *wink*."

Linux.com: What's the coolest thing you've gotten to do on this job?

"Design and deploy a large network."

Linux.com: What makes your company a good one to work for?

"Telecommuting is integral to our working life and the company CEO is a big believer in it. Low management overhead and none of the political bullshit. This is a good place to be a long haired hacker hippy freak (like me) because the culture really is all about the technology and nothing else really matters."

Linux.com: What would you tell someone who was just starting out and wanted a job like yours? Are there special certifications, classes, or other training you'd recommend?

"Nahh, just get out there and hack around with the technology. Blow the dust off that old 486 sitting in your closet and install Linux on it. Read all of the HOWTO's. Get onto the newsgroups and ask questions. Learn how to solve problems with Linux that previously you'd have used Windows for. My qualifications include having been computing since I was 11 (1979 on a Commodore Pet) and baing ravenously hungry for knowledge about computers, so in that light you could say I was self taught. I quit school in 3rd grade also and spent all of my time hacking, and just went back to school recently. I wouldn't recommend that to anyone, but you do have to spend the time in front of your monitor, preferably for long stretches at a time."

-- If there is anyone else out there who loves their job, and thinks it's something to crow about, go ahead and contact us through wirren@linux.com. We'd love to hear from you.