XMission's Company Journal

Systems Administration Tools Used at XMission

Since 1993, XMission systems administrators have managed a vast variety of software and hardware solutions. While we almost exclusively still run open source software on the Linux operating system, much has changed. Among other things, new technologies like virtualization and fantastic management tools now exist which enable us to systematize and standardize how we setup, monitor, and maintain our servers. These current solutions help our administrators perform automated tasks and accomplish far more than was possible in the past.

Systematizing and Standardizing Using Puppet

A particularly useful tool for us is Puppet, which we have setup to automatically perform certain tasks. This not only saves us time but ensures standardization of systems, including installation and configuration management. When similar systems (e.g., web servers) are identical, maintenance and management become much easier.

Monitoring and Notifications Via Monit and Nagios

Both Monit and Nagios provide not only excellent monitoring and notification solutions but they can also be configured to automatically restart services when they notice something has gone down. Nagios also provides a particularly helpful dashboard to easily appraise the health of our systems at any moment in time and generates statistical information regarding uptime.

Utilization Aggregation and Graphing with Cacti

While system and network uptime is very important, uptime alone is not good enough since a service could be running but at a degraded level of performance. Cacti allows us to see exactly how many resources are being used at any given moment as well as over time. This also helps us track trends and potential bottlenecks and plan for future growth.

Virtualization using Xen and Virtuozzo

Virtualization allows us to abstract out the hardware layer and run multiple servers on one piece of hardware. This not only allows us to more efficiently utilize hardware, thus reducing power consumption, but virtualization tools now include the ability to clone server images, back them up, and quickly migrate a virtualized server from one computer to another, which could be in a facility anywhere else in the world. In a word, magic.

XMission uses Xen for many of our servers, including many of our traditional web hosting Linux servers. We run Virtuozzo on our next generation web hosting solution “Stackable” ( to provide virtualized server instances (that we call “containers”) on top of racks full of blade servers with Linux and the Apache web server in various configurations. While Stackable could therefore be considered a “cloud computing” solution, especially since customers are able to instantaneously adjust resources both vertically and horizontally, the innovative product most closely resembles managed hosting solutions.


I’ve only touched upon a handful of the many solutions we’re currently using. The days of dedicating a piece of hardware to a single task is a thing of the past, as is manually installing and configuring servers. As computing becomes more powerful and complex, better tools and software emerge to help us provide ever better products and services.

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2 thoughts on “Systems Administration Tools Used at XMission

  • dave says:

    I’ve enjoyed and seen the power of most of the tools you list here, Grant. One thing that I think may go a long ways towards XMission’s role as a data center, and ultimately the comapny’s brand would be to hold regular seminars and classes on these tools (free if you’re a data center client!).

    We know there are plenty of tutorials out there for Nagios, Xen, etc., but there’s something very helpful to be in a room full of one’s peers and seeing the voodoo directly in use. I know that– when I was a client there– such classes would have been mandatory attendance for my whole network staff.

  • Grant Sperry says:

    Dave, thanks for the feedback and recommendation. We will look into the potential interest and feasibility of doing a seminar on using some of these tools.