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The Art of Linux Monitoring: Expert Tips for System Administrators

Catherine Schwartz

October 4, 2023 - Guest Writer

Monitoring Linux servers comes with a unique set of challenges, which you won’t encounter with other operating systems. It requires a deeper level of tech proficiency. Administrators will find themselves coding and configuring their systems to achieve optimal specifications.


The process seems intimidating at first. While it has a steep learning curve, you can resolve most roadblocks with intermediate coding and programming experience. You’ll go a long way by just repeating and mastering the basics.


However, adequate Linux monitoring isn’t enough to combat security and privacy risks. Keeping your servers in tip-top shape 24/7 requires various techniques, from deciphering command-line utilities to utilizing open-source tools. Linux system administrators would do well to master them.

How Hard Is It to Monitor Systems Running on a Linux OS?


Assess how much you know about Linux before mapping out your monitoring strategy. Again, it differs from other operating systems. Proficiency in managing Windows or Mac systems doesn’t automatically translate to efficient Linux monitoring.


Factors like complex file configuration, diverse ecosystems, unique server issues, and emphasis on command lines could make system management challenging. It’s best to familiarize yourself with them.

Open-Source Databases


Linux offers extensive customization possibilities. It’s an open-source OS that allows users to modify, view, and customize its source codes – you can also use open-source tools for server management. Some of the most popular databases include:


  • MongoDB: It’s a flexible, scalable NoSQL database that suits systems with rapidly evolving schemas, like content management editors or real-time analytics trackers.
  • PostgreSQL: It’s a robust database system that admins rely on when building data-heavy applications that run complex queries and transactions. Some of its use cases include finance statements and data warehousing.
  • MySQL: System admins opt for MySQL when they need a fast, convenient database system. It’s common in web enterprise apps involved with eCommerce, web development, and content management, among other tasks.

Command Line Emphasis


Linux heavily relies on command lines. While its distributions accommodate several graphical apps, administrators say you can only unlock the system’s full potential through the command-line interface. Also, the most widely used programming tools on Linux, e.g., debuggers, compilers, and interpreters, still use command lines.


Corey Donovan, President of Alta Technologies, advises aspiring Linux admins to study command lines extensively despite the availability of various desktop environments. He says, “Mastering command lines gives you an edge over other Linux admins. Command-line programs are faster and more versatile than their graphical counterparts – you can run them on virtually any server.”

Various Distributions


Technically, Linux itself is a kernel, not an operating system. While it connects your hardware devices to all processes in your operating system, it isn’t the OS itself. 


When talking about Linux operating systems, you’re actually referring to distributions. Linux is an open-source kernel with accessible resources, enabling programmers to build and develop as many distributions (OS variations) as they want. Some of the most popular distributions include:


  • Ubuntu
  • CentOS
  • Fedora Linux
  • Garuda Linux
  • Debian
  • Red Hat


Mark Varnas, Principal SQL Server DBA and Consultant at Red9, advises aspiring Linux admins to focus on understanding the nuances between distributions instead of mastering them all. He says, “It’s impossible to master every Linux distribution. The best approach is to familiarize yourself with the most widely used distributions, study their nuances, and assess which ones suit your programming skills.”

Unique Filesystem Hierarchy


Linux accommodates various filesystems. Programmers use its open-source resources to produce different options, all of which feature unique hierarchies and proprietary structures. The most popular options include Btrfs and ext4, but you can also explore the following:


  • APFS (Apple File System)
  • exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table)
  • ext4 (Fourth Extended Filesystem)
  • FAT (File Allocation Table)
  • HFS+ (Hierarchical File System Plus)
  • JFS (IBM Journaling File System)
  • NTFS (New Technology File System)
  • ReFS (Resilient File System)
  • XFS
  • ZFS (Zettabyte File System)

Shell Script Generation


Linux monitoring heavily relies on scripting. You must know how to create shell scripts for specific commands and execute them through the command line interface. Of course, there are graphical apps for various functions. But, as a system administrator, creating custom scripts enables you to customize your Linux distribution and utilize its potential.

Kernel Tuning Options


Kernel tuning plays a crucial role in any Linux monitoring strategy. All Linux distributions use the same kernel – knowing how to tune and customize it is imperative for system administrators. You’ll have trouble executing various functions if you rely on graphical apps. 


For efficient monitoring, practice kernel tuning based on specific system parameters, like I/O operations, memory management, and CPU scheduling. Focus on factors that drive optimal performance. You’ll spend most days tracking these metrics and kernel patching issues that arise.

How System Administrators Can Monitor Systems Running Linux More Efficiently 


Efficient OS monitoring calls for an efficient routine. Apart from practicing your programming and coding skills on Linux, learn how to utilize the operating system’s unique features.

1. Automate Vulnerability Patching


Tracking performance optimization metrics takes more time than new Linux admins realize. Just going through shell scripts and testing for efficiency could take days, depending on the size of your servers. And note that kernel patching is a different process altogether.


To ensure you and your IT department isn’t overworked, consider offloading vulnerability patching to AI tools. Their AI-driven agents will analyze system metrics and address potential threats in real time – you can focus on other Linux maintenance tasks.


If relying on AI is still not on your radar, at least consider automating tasks like vulnerability patching, as the last thing you want to have is for possibly exploitable gaps to exist on your systems.  Systems like TuxCare’s KernelCare Enterprise offer live patching and the ability to automate the response to emerging threats without the disruption of traditional patching operations.

2. Integrate Infrastructure as Code (IaC) Scripts


Linux admins go through dozens of shell scripts every day. Inconsistencies arise when they fail to communicate scripting changes efficiently, which happens more often than people think. You can’t ask programmers to distribute configurations after hours of scripting. The best approach is to use IaC scripts that codify, document, and execute changes automatically, thus minimizing the risks of undocumented configurations. 

3. Track Microservices Communication


Adopt service mesh observability to monitor and trace microservices’ communication between complex architectures. Collect, visualize, then analyze the data from these interactions. They should give you first-hand insights into potential bottlenecks, performance issues, error rates, and latency issues. 

4. Fine-Tune Kernel Parameters


Contrary to popular belief, you won’t achieve optimal Linux server metrics right from the get-go. Fine-tuning kernel parameters involves repeated testing. It’s an iterative process wherein you’ll tweak and tune parameters individually several times – large servers will require a team effort.


John Xie, Co-Founder & CEO of Taskade, advises IT managers to equip their system admins with the necessary tools to hasten the process. He says, “Knowing to write and execute shell scripts is an indispensable but time-consuming skill. System administrators should use AI-driven tools that collect data on kernel parameters so that they can focus on kernel patching.”


5. Analyze Abnormal Traffic Patterns


Tracking abnormal traffic patterns should be a daily routine for Linux system admins. It’s an efficient way to prevent unauthorized access in real time – enabling you to catch cybercriminals before they do too much damage. 


Volodymyr Shchegel, VP of Engineering at Clario, advises using a 24-hour traffic pattern tracker. He says, “Instead of hiring several human employees to monitor unusual traffic patterns, invest in an AI-driven tool that scours your servers. System admins can step in when resolving issues – offloading the rote work to the bots.


Streamline Linux Monitoring with Advanced Work Tools


Monitoring Linux systems involves more work than other operating systems. If you jump into system administration unprepared and ill-equipped, you’ll put your servers at risk of various security issues. Open-source operating systems like Linux have unlimited customization potential. However, you must master monitoring skills before integrating them into your company’s servers.


Also, note that Linux monitoring isn’t a one-person task. Considering the level of meticulousness required to execute various tasks, even tenured system administrators will occasionally make mistakes. Knowing how to offload tasks is as important as mastering them. For instance, technologies like those from TuxCare can allow you to put patching on autopilot so that you can focus on other projects. Talk to their experts and see how they can improve your server security.


Guest Writer: Catherine Schwartz is an author specializing in business security. She often covers topics related to safeguarding enterprises and their assets.


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The Art of Linux Monitoring: Expert Tips for System Administrators
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