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The Art of Squeezing Blood from a Stone--O'Reilly Releases New Edition of System Performance Tuning

February 22, 2002

Sebastopol, CA--Tackling the subject of system performance actually depends on an understanding of two distinct areas, explains Gian-Paolo Musumeci, coauthor with Mike Loukides of the new edition of "System Performance Tuning" (O'Reilly, US $39.95). These are performance tuning, which Musumeci describes as "the art of increasing performance for a specific application set, also known as 'squeezing blood from a stone'" and capacity planning, or "deciding what hardware to purchase to fulfill a given role, also known as 'fortune telling.'" Adding stone squeezing and fortune telling to their already formidable array of skills is yet another challenge that system administrators face these days, many of whom are under great pressure to optimize system performance without additional spending. In this completely updated new book, Musumeci and Loukides show system administrators how to make the best use of existing systems while minimizing the purchase of new equipment.

"The desire to go faster appears to be integral to human nature," says Musumeci. "In light of the present economic contraction, there's a need to go faster while spending less, making sure that we extract the most out of what we have. System Performance Tuning endeavors to help professionals deliver on that need."

"There's a particular need for this book right now," adds Loukides. "Even though computers have gotten much, much faster in the past decade, it's a mistake to think that performance isn't a problem. CPU speeds are faster by a factor of fifty of more, but memory speeds and disk speeds haven't increased by the same amount. So, while we have incredibly fast CPUs, they tend to spend most of their time waiting for data rather than doing productive work. This was a problem when I wrote the first edition and it's only gotten worse.

"At the same time we're doing much more business online, and computers are even more important to business processes than they were a decade ago," Loukides continues. "And most important, we're now in a recession, and companies are being very cautious about what they're willing to spend. Two years ago, a manager might have said, 'That server's too slow? Buy a faster one.' Today a manager is more likely to say, 'We don't have the budget to buy more hardware.' Which means that you have to squeeze more performance out of the equipment you have on hand. Computing load isn't going to go down; if you can't buy more computing power, the only thing you can do is use the systems you have more effectively."

The book takes an holistic approach to system performance. The authors suggest that system performance tuning is very much about the underlying hardware and how it is abstracted. Truly understanding the behavior of the system, they claim, involves a detailed knowledge of the inner workings of the machine. The book focuses on Solaris and Linux systems, with expanded coverage of the I/O and networking subsystems, and new material covering disk arrays, microprocessors, and code tuning. Other topics include workflow characterization and management, benchmarks, CPU architecture and performance, and optimizing use of memory.

"The most important thing readers can take away from this book is an understanding of how all the factors involved in performance engineering fit together," says Musumeci. "Something about that understanding never becomes obsolete; it's a frame of mind. That's part of the legacy of System Performance Tuning and why the first edition of the book sold well ten years after it was first published. This is one of those books where the whole is worth more than the sum of individual parts."

System administrators/engineers, systems architects, consultants, individuals in academic and enterprise computing will all benefit from reading System Performance Tuning, Second Edition.

What the critics said about the first edition:

"System Performance Tuning takes a pragmatic approach to performance analysis and improvement.... This book is a 'must' for anyone who has an interest in making their Unix system run faster and more efficiently. It deals effectively with a complex subject that could require a multiple-volume series."
--Stephan M. Chan, CommUNIXations, April 1991

"Once again, System Performance Tuning by Mike Loukides was a valuable reference. (Everyone has a copy by now, right?)"
--Dinah McNutt, SunExpert, December 1991

"...the large variety of issues make the book helpful for the administrator of a large multi-user system as well as the engineer using a Unix PC on his desk."
--Unix User, November 1991

"A book dedicated to system tuning is a welcome addition to the libraries of system administrators. I have seen some tuning information in one or two system administration books, but a book solely devoted to the subject was sorely needed. Mike Loukides explores many aspects of system tuning, which you may well have grappled with at your site. His book is easy to read, and it flows logically from topic to topic...People who tune Unix systems will appreciate the information in this book."
--Root Journal, Sept/Oct. 1991

Online Resources:

System Performance Tuning, 2nd Edition
By Gian-Paolo C. Musumeci and Mike Loukides
ISBN 0-596-00284-X, 334 pages, $39.95 (US), $59.95 (CAN)

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