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August 21, 2001

Network Troubleshooting Made Easy--O'Reilly Author Demystifies the Process

Sebastopol, CA--The best time to prepare for problems is before you have them, advises Joseph D. Sloan, author of Network Troubleshooting Tools (O'Reilly, US $39.95). As any network administrator can confirm, the time for gathering information about troubleshooting tools is not when you're faced with a solving a critical problem, but before. Fortunately, there are an extraordinary number of tools available for the purpose of troubleshooting, and more become available daily. For the network administrator, the challenge then becomes how to sift through the countless tools available to find those that will be most useful.

Network Troubleshooting Tools helps administrators sort through the thousands of tools used to debug TCP/IP networks and choose those that are best for the job at hand. Rather than provide a general overview of all troubleshooting tools, Sloan focuses on a single aspect of troubleshooting which he considers essential to solving any problem: collecting information. As Sloan explains, data collection does not need to be overwhelming in spite of the countless tools available; a small number of tools can be used effectively to solve most problems.

"The first step in diagnosing a network problem is to collect information," Sloan says. "This includes collecting information from your users as to the nature of the problems they are having, and it includes collecting data from your network. Your success will depend, in large part, on your efficiency in collecting this information and on the quality of the information you collect." In Network Troubleshooting Tools, Sloan centers on a core set of freely available tools used for data collection, with pointers to additional tools that may be needed in some circumstances.

The ability to prevent network problems and to solve them quickly when they arise has become more critical for network administrators in recent years. "As systems, both servers and networks, become more complex, the likelihood of problems increases," says Sloan. "And as problems become more common, we need to become more organized and systematic in dealing with problems."

"In the past many networks (and the Internet in particular) were largely toys or research tools. As networks evolve into essential entities for businesses and institutions, producing reliable networks and resolving problems rapidly becomes essential. I think administrators are likely to see drastic increases in the amount of pressure they face in resolving network problems quickly," Sloan adds. "When you pick up your telephone, you expect it to work every time. More and more, I expect to see the same sorts of expectations for data networks that we have for the telephone network."

In addition to describing the best tools available for troubleshooting network problems, Sloan provides a general review of troubleshooting techniques, followed by troubleshooting from a broader administrative context--using troubleshooting tools in an effective, productive, responsible manner. Network Troubleshooting Tools outlines a systematic approach to network troubleshooting, including how to document a network so administrators will know how it behaves under normal conditions, and how to think about problems when they arise, in order to solve them more effectively.

Network Troubleshooting Tools was written primarily for first-time system administrators--individuals who have learned the basics of TCP/IP, installed FreeBSD or Linux on a server, attached it to a network, and now realize they have to keep it running. It will also serve as a valuable resource to those who have inherited responsibility for existing systems and networks set up by others.

Online Resources:

Network Troubleshooting Tools
By Joseph D. Sloan
August 2001
ISBN 0-596-00186-X, 346 pages, $39.95 (US)
order@oreilly.com
1-800-998-9938

About O'Reilly

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