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Newsletter Section 5

Across the Pond




SAGE-UK


(Hal Miller)

Hello Fellow Sysadmins!

After I expressed an interest, I was invited to write a short article for your newsletter. This is a personal appeal for help in achieving my goal of more international ties for the system administration community. I am aware of the previous effort made to kick off a SAGE-UK, and of the fact that it has apparently stalled. I stand ready to provide whatever assistance I may be able, in whatever form that may be required, to make that organisation vibrant and successful.

Who am I? In addition to many other careers, I have been in computing since 1975, and a full-time UNIX sysadmin since 1988. In 1992 I became the founding president of SAGE-AU, and worked with then-SAGE-US president Elizabeth Zwicky to lay the groundwork for the international ties that can now benefit SAGE-UK. In 1995 I became a Director of SAGE-US, and have been president this past year. Although my interest in SAGE-UK is a “personal agenda”, I am in a position to help ensure your success.

What do I see SAGE-UK being? I was very careful while in Australia to ensure that SAGE-AU was fully independent. It is not a part of AUUG (even though SAGE-US is part of USENIX, so both models already exist), and in particular does not report to nor owe allegiance to the American organisation. I envision an alliance of independent SAGEs around the world, each individually providing its own members with the benefits that got me involved in the first place (sharing our overtaxed resources to solve our common problems), plus all acting together to do the same thing on a larger scale.

What would SAGE-UK have to offer you? As a working system administrator, I am constantly caught by problems I've not faced before, either new equipment, new releases of software packages, or just new and innovative ways for users to break things. There is no way I can keep abreast, let alone ahead, of all the various parts of the job. In fact, I never considered myself all that expert on any facet of what I do, so I began looking for places I could turn for help when I needed it. There weren't really any good places that deal with the peculiar problems of sysadmins. I figured that if I needed this, others probably did too, so I began pushing hard to create such a place. Given the

nature of our job, we have access to more “delicate” issues and information than most other engineers, so it behooves us to ensure that we (and our compatriots) keep to a very high standard. Such a standard had not been defined. SAGE offers these things. SAGE-UK will offer them to you within your national boundaries in a far more effective manner than could SAGE-US from across the pond.

What does SAGE-US have to offer to SAGE-UK? I do not want to create or operate SAGE-UK. If it cannot/does not run entirely on UK-supplied energy and enthusiasm, it will fail as soon as I walk away. This must be your organisation. Thus, SAGE-US can only offer assistance to an existing and viable group. We offer use of the name, expertise developed over many years in putting on sysadmin conferences (I look forward to the upcoming UK-LISA!), and examples of organisational documents (both US and AU). We in the USA already have an active publications program(me). Reciprocal member benefits are still open to discussion, but SAGE-AU members have been obtaining SAGE-US member discounts on conference fees and publication purchases. Members are entitled to use mailing lists to ask questions of other members, which has actually proven rather valuable! Mostly, SAGE-US has a large supply of sysadmins doing the same things as UK sysadmins do, facing the same problems, and willing to share ideas or just commiserate.

If you have not recently looked at the SAGE-US web site, you might usefully spend a few minutes doing so: http://www.usenix.org/sage .

What does it take? Well, there's always a cost when you want something of value. Fortunately, this isn't very big. I have been saying that I can't afford to put much time into these kinds of things because I'm just too busy with family, work and other things; so if I put in “five minutes”, and each of you does likewise, we end up with a very large number of minutes total. While you lose some to coordination, each of us gets back far more than the “five minutes” invested. The first thing it takes is for each of us (in this case, each of you, and I'll help) to commit to investing a little bit of time.

Money hasn't been a problem. We kept the SAGE-AU fees to about A$50/year, and SAGE-US is US$25 (plus US$60 for the required USENIX membership fee). Trivial, even for starving student sysadmins (and we always manage to ensure that even this level isn't an obstacle.) The things above all else that it takes are enthusiasm and commitment. If you want the benefits, you'll need to make sure that SAGE-UK is going to succeed. If it gets down to only a couple of people actually doing things to keep it running, it will be pretty hard to stay viable, but if those few are really committed, SAGE-UK will continue. However, if most

of the members sit back and let just a few do the work, you lose the biggest benefits.

So, it takes you. Each of you. How to set up the organisation is a known problem with a known solution, and I can help there. I can supply the benefits of the existing versions in two countries. I can't supply the effort and enthusiasm from each of you. It's hard to get across how little it takes from each member to get this consolidated set of benefits – you'll be surprised.

You've taken many of the first steps, with the previous discussions held, early organisational steps, and now with the forthcoming UK-LISA. You need a champion (which you may already have) and a willingness to assist that champion. I look forward to gaining the benefit in the USA of the solutions offered from SAGE-UK members to worldwide-common sysadmin problems.

Let me know where I can help: halm@usenix.org .




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