But not everything about SysAdmin life has to be more challenging than it needs to be. That’s why we put together this list of must-have SysAdmin tools so you can optimize your workflow and focus on critical tasks.
We’ve been on a roll with posts about system administration, including informative articles about what a system administrator does and useful sysadmin subreddits. But, if there’s something that every administrator sorely needs, it’s tools that make their daily lives more efficient.
And by efficient, we refer to tools that can streamline your regular tasks and duties; anything from:
- Writing a note
- Saving files
- Communicating with team members
- Analyzing network protocols
- Keeping track of your multitude of active passwords
- And more
Let’s get started!
24 must-have tools for system administrators
WireShark is one of the most widely available network traffic monitoring sysadmin tools. The idea is to take a magnifying glass to network activity and not allow anything to slip by unnoticed.
It’s also a cross-platform tool, so you can use it to monitor activity in Windows, Linux, Mac OS-X, and others. In addition to letting you watch the state of network traffic, WireShark also has excellent filtration features, so you can easily keep track of issues that pop up over time.
Fiddler is a proxy server SysAdmin tool. It runs locally, allowing developers to debug web applications. If you’re running apps or processes that can modify values in a form, Fiddler can help you see the output. You can compose and relay requests while operating with a remote API.
mRemoteNG can help sysadmins manage systems remotely. It uses RDP, ICA, Telnet, VNC, and SSH protocols. It can also save your connection database and credentials.
FileZilla is a manageable (that is, lightweight) FTP client that can connect to SSH-secured hosts. It’s a godsend for system administrators who would work with a GUI rather than the ol’ command line interface. If you decide to go for the Pro version, you’ll get support for cloud storage platforms, such as Google Cloud Storage, Microsft OneDrive, Amazon S3, and Dropbox.
ISPConfig3 is an administrator tool that allows you to use the same control panel to manage multiple servers. Of course, the point’s pretty moot if you only have one server to handle.
Are you an SSH user? Then by now, you’ve probably had a bad experience or two with the instability of their remote sessions. Mosh acts as a secure replacement protocol that allows sessions to continue even after a WiFi mishap and dramatically improves the connection's stability. Plus, it’s available for every platform, including a Chrome plugin.
AutoSSH is here to help you with SSH tunnels, and, just like Mosh, it’ll help you auto-restart dropped sessions and lost tunnels.
8. SysInternals Suite
This suite is a collection of valuable tools. It includes file and disk, process management, networking, security, and data collecting information for Windows hosts. It consists of a top-rated utility, Autoruns.exe, which will immediately identify programs that run at startup. Also, it allows you to run SysInternals tools directly from the web without installing them on your computer.
You’re not always at the office, which goes double if you’re a SysAdmin. When you need to connect to servers remotely, a tool like PuTTy is just what the doctor ordered. It’s an open-source SSH, Telnet client, and terminal emulator, allowing you to connect to your servers via a text-based interface.
It offers command-line SFTP and SCP clients so that you can transfer files securely. It also allows you to automate processes remotely using Plink, its command line utility.
Cliforgot is a SysAdmin tool that will let you create complete command line commands and options for most Windows sysadmin commands, so it doubles as a copy/paste interactive communication.
People sure like their “Zilla” names, huh? CloneZilla allows you to create a master image and send it to various machines. It’s necessary if you’re working with a wide variety of devices, so you don’t have to go one by one and can provision large batches instead. Of course, make sure you get the SE (Server Edition) because that’s the one that allows you to deploy as many images as necessary over the network.
Clusto is a Python-based server cluster management tool. It allows you to maintain an abstracted interface to interact with your infrastructure. To this end, it stores data in databases you can interact with via SQLAlchemy. It also lets you track your inventory, where it’s, and how it’s connected while providing an interface to help you interact with every infrastructure element.
Simply put, Ansible has a well-earned reputation for being able to automate IT provisioning tasks. It’s a programmatic method of bundling instructions, which you can iterate on any amount of servers you connect to over SSH. Now, Ansible may not seem essential to you, and that’s fine. But, if you start calculating the time, it helps you save by not having to do these things manually. Believe us: it adds up.
It’s not a program for making dinner. Instead, Chef helps enterprising SysAdmins automate their server infrastructure through clients installed on each node in the network. Clients poll the central Chef server and compare their internal configuration vs. the main server. If Chef finds discrepancies, it runs commands to bring them into compliance.
Also, if manual changes made by a sysadmin result in an error, Chef is very good at helping things return to a more stable state.
Again with the cute names. But Puppet is a precious tool, allowing for declarative configuration of servers through their Ruby DSL. Of course, having a solid Ruby foundation will let you dig right into Puppet to manage as many servers as you choose.
This cleverly named tool is a lightweight DNS resolver for local networks (compared to BIND). If you’re running things in low-resource environments like firewalls and routers, it’s a perfect match. And while it caches requests locally, it falls back to an upstream DNS provider.
We should’ve named this list “The 25 best ‘Zilla-themed’ apps.” You’ll want to download Bugzilla, as it’s an excellent reporting tool for software bugs. Also, they’ve currently expanded its features to quality assurance management and patch submission and review. Additionally, you can integrate it with a variety of source control systems.
This tool has the tagline “Found an issue? Dig in.” It’s well-deserved because you probably won’t find a better open-source, system-level management tool. It allows you to capture, filter, and save all of the processes at play in a Linux machine at a given moment. As a result, it makes everyday tasks almost a non-issue.
7-Zip is one of the best archivers and thus a perfect SysAdmin tool. Its high speed and extreme data compression make it an ideal fit for most compressed file formats (like .rar, .zip, .gzip, .tar, .xz, .WIM, etc.). Oh, and the 7z format can produce its self-extracting files. A tool you’ll want to have installed.
Remember the old Windows notepad? Well, this is the extra-large, fries-and-milkshake version of that. It’s a fast, lightweight text editor that SysAdmins love, and with good reason. It’s perfect for working with larger files and allows you to customize anything from the interface to the keyboard shortcuts, making it an excellent asset when working with code.
It also includes more advanced features like hotkeys that take care of more complex functions, split-screen editing, and even custom highlighting of relevant code syntax that elevates Notepad ++ to greatness. Due to its simplicity and variety of features, we recommend it as a near-perfect text editor.
This open-source password manager tool allows you to generate and store strong passwords per site or application automatically. Thus, even if you have hundreds of ultra-long, complex passwords, KeePass will allow you to store them securely and use them when necessary. And, if you need to share your passwords with someone else, simply keeping it on a DataAnywhere share will suffice.
22. MailFlow Monitor
This sysadmin tool allows administrators to get notifications if there are any issues with email flow. The best part is that it will enable you to resolve the problems before customers notice — something you want to avoid.
We’re touching base with every type of animal out there, aren’t we? Netcat is one of those “swiss-army knife” tools, allowing you to get network port information quickly. Its features can also replace many other tools because it can handle direct file transfer or connect to other networked systems.
24. Process Explorer
This is the final tool for SysAdmins, and it comes in handy if you need to track, identify, stop, and start processes on a Windows machine. If you’ve got rogue processes wreaking havoc, or memory leaks causing trouble, Process Explorer is an excellent way to track them down.
As you’ve probably been able to tell, there are many reasons why you should have a well-constructed set of SysAdmin tools by your side. After all, being a system administrator goes far beyond performing your daily duties; it’s also about leveraging automation in your favor to optimize your work and not have to do extra labor on things that don’t deserve it.
Plus, using tools goes way beyond automating things “just because” or to free up time. Using tools also alleviates or dramatically reduces the opportunity for human error. There are so many places where things can go wrong, and it’s tough to tell exactly where or when something happened. When you delegate part of the job to tools, you can also let go of some of the anxiety — “Did I do something I shouldn’t have?” — and increase accountability.
Tools can help you make the most of your SysAdmin job, increasing the amount of high-quality work an individual can do while making day-to-day operations more efficient, trackable, reliable, and successful.