Cover V01, I03
Sidebar 1


Questions and Answers

Bjorn Satdeva

As usual, I start out with major events in the UNIX system administration world. This time, however, so much has happened that is of great significance in the daily lives of UNIX system administrators that there is no space left for questions. With the next issue, however, I return to answering questions as usual.

During Summer USENIX, which took place in San Antonio, Texas, from June 8 to 12, the USENIX Association made two announcements. The first was that USENIX will now have Local Technical Groups (LTCs) and Special Technical Groups (STGs), a goal that a number of people have looked toward for quite some time. The second announcement, however, is of much greater importance to all system administrators: USENIX announced the launching of SAGE, the Systems Administrators' Guild, as the first USENIX Special Technical Group. SAGE is devoted to the advancement of Systems Administration as a profession. USENIX and SAGE will work jointly to publish technical information and sponsor conferences, workshops, tutorials, and local groups in the Systems Administration field. Do you wonder what the `E' in SAGE stands for? This `E' is the one Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie left off the `creat' UNIX system call.

An interim board was appointed by the USENIX Association (see sidebar), and elections will be held later this year to elect a new board, which will take office at the Winter USENIX conference in San Diego in January, 1993. Nominations for the SAGE board will be accepted until the LISA (Large Installation Systems Administration) conference in October.

As I have been involved with the development of SAGE from the very beginning, I can give you an overview of the events which lead to its creation.

The idea of a national professional society for systems administrators was originally proposed during a BayLISA (The San Francisco Bay Large Installation System Administration) board meeting in January of 1992. It was immediately clear that such an organization would be beyond the scope of BayLISA, which is a local organization. Those of us who were interested therefore decided to start a series of meetings completely separate from BayLISA.

During this time, we contacted a number of organizations for advice, including USENIX, who suggested that SAGE should become a USENIX Special Technical Group. Since this proposal was beneficial for both USENIX and SAGE, negotiations progressed rapidly, and USENIX made the announcement in San Antonio.

Since SAGE is still in its infancy, there remain many questions concerning what the organization can do to improve the working situation for system administrators. To debate these issues, a small number of working groups have been created. In the end, each small working group will put together a proposal to the SAGE Board, of possible ways to pursue the work. (It is also possible that one or more of the groups will report to the board that their charter topic is unrealistic and should not be pursued any further.)

Therefore, if you have strong opinions for or against an item being debated by a small working group, you should join the discussion. For the moment, all such discussion is done by e-mail through a number of mailing lists set up for this purpose. To join a group, simply send e-mail to, with a body message of "help," and you will receive the necessary information.

If you feel that there is an additional topic that SAGE should pursue, send e-mail to describing what you think should be added, and why.

At this time, membership in SAGE is not a prerequisite to participation in a small working group. However, since SAGE is intended to serve the system administration professional, membership is something you should consider. Membership forms can be obtained from the USENIX office (510 528-8649). The membership fee for the remainder of 1992 is $25 (which entitles you to a $25 rebate of the LISA VI registration fee).

Below is a list of the small working groups as they exist on June 25th. It is entirely possible that new groups will be added, or existing groups will be split or joined together.

SAGE Working Groups


Small Working Group Chair: Bryan McDonald (

E-mail Address:

The publications group puts together a series of proposals related to the publications that SAGE wants to see established. In the immediate future the group will be asked to assist in the publication of the first issues of newsletter segments within login:. Long-term goals include proposals for an independent newsletter, a technical journal, software tool collections, and any other ideas the committee can collect.

Electronic Information Distribution

Small Working Group Chair: Mark Verber (

The electronic information distribution working group will identify existing information sources that would be of use to SAGE members and new types of information that should be gathered/produced, and will make proposals for the effective distribution of this information. Existing sources should include reprints of papers/articles and mailing-list/USENET news archives. New information sources might include specially written technical/positional papers and custom databases such as vendor-neutral lists of bugs. Distribution methods will include WAIS or other information servers, anonymous ftp/uucp, and CD-ROM.


Small Working Group Chair: Pat Wilson (

E-mail Address:

The education working group's initial goal is to outline possible plans for institutional and continuing education of the community through the development of model curricula, the identification and promotion of useful tutorial programs, and the construction of guides for self-study.


Small Working Group Chair: Paul Moriarty (

E-mail Address:

The purpose of the certification working group is to address the issues surrounding certification and discuss the various approaches that might be taken. The working group will present the model along with their recommendations to the board of directors.

Job Descriptions

Small Working Group Chair: Tina Darmohray (

E-mail Address:

The job description group will evaluate SAGE's role in assisting system administrators in defining job descriptions. If the group agrees that SAGE should pursue this topic, the focus will be on creating multiple system administration job description suites that can be used as templates for those who are writing position descriptions for hiring purposes at their own site.


Small Working Group Chair: John Detke (

E-mail Address:

The awards working group will focus on how SAGE can best recognize outstanding system administrators and their achievements. Initial suggestions include a "Best of LISA" award and an annual outstanding sysadmin award.

Public Relations

Small Working Group Chair: Paul Evans (

E-mail Address:

This committee will examine the role that SAGE, as a professional society, should play in representing the profession to industry and/or government. The committee will examine the issues, set guidelines to SAGE's involvement in this area, and if appropriate, propose a plan for the guild to evaluate and pursue (or not pursue). This group will also serve to direct any future public relations issues that may arise.

Local Groups

Small Working Group Chair: Bjorn Satdeva (

E-mail Address:

This group will have the task of exploring how the creation of new local groups can be made easier, how SAGE and USENIX can assist in their formation, and how SAGE can support existing local groups.


Small Working Group Chair: Ed Gould (

E-mail Address:

This group is charged with determining SAGE's role in developing a set of guidelines or codes of ethics for the system administrator. These guidelines or codes would have at least two purposes, namely, guiding the administrator in the performance of his/her system administration tasks, and informing the administrator's employer and co-workers of the proper bounds of system administration.


Small Working Group Chair: Lee Damon (

E-mail Address:

The focus of the policies working group is the development of one or more documents for system/network administrators to use as guidelines or boilerplates in setting up site policies and procedures. The group will also work with the education and ethics working groups to help systems administrators understand what policies are and why they can be important.


Small Working Group Chair: Terry Bartlett (

E-mail Address:

The vendors working group will evaluate SAGE's role in establishing a consensus on the types of tools we'd like vendors to provide for system and network administration. The group may also act as a lobbying organization to convince the various manufacturers to "do the right thing" when it comes to system administration.


Small Working Group Chair: Janet Frazer (

E-mail Address:

The standards working group will evaluate whether (and, if yes, how) SAGE might monitor and affect the various standards bodies that are now or will in the future be setting standards for system administration.


Small Working Group Chair: John Detke (

E-mail Address:

The non-UNIX outreach working group will focus on how SAGE can remain pertinent to people who manage computing systems and networks, addressing the issues that cross operating and network system boundaries.

Part-Time Admins

Small Working Group Chair: Peg Schafer (

E-mail Address:

The part-time working group is concerned that the proposed SAGE charter did not mention the large number of people who administer systems on a less than full-time basis (e.g., there are chemists who fulfill system administration roles some portion of each working day; they view themselves as chemists, not system administrators). The group will consider how SAGE could address the needs of such individuals and suggest changes to the proposed SAGE charter which address this "dual-role" reality.


Small Working Group Chair: Laura de Leon ( and Arnold de Leon (

E-mail Address:

Security is a growing concern for system administrators. This group will examine ways of helping system administrators assess their security needs and policies and will investigate ways of educating system administrators on security issues. The group will consider soliciting or developing sample policies and tools in this arena.

About the Author

Bjorn Satdeva -- email: /sys/admin, inc. The Unix System Management Experts (408) 241 3111 Send requests to the SysAdmin mailing list to