Server Tuning Shootout

In the past few weeks, I've received two new titles on Linux performance Tuning; Performance Tuning for Linux Servers from IBM Press and Optimizing Linux Performance: A Hands-On Guide to Linux Performance Tools from Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference. I'm quite happy to see books of a more advanced nature coming out about Linux. Beginner's books are nice, but the real need for documentation is on the more advanced topics, where man pages and HOWTOs aren't quite sufficient to get it done. Performance tuning, in particular, is of heavy interest to admins who are deploying or thinking about deploying Linux, and they need to get the most bang for their buck.

One thing to point out about both books. Despite the HP and IBM branding, respectively, both titles are appropriate for anyone using Linux on any brand of server. The books are both Linux-specific rather than HP or IBM-specific, and that’s a very good thing — so don’t let the branding throw you.

The good thing is that both books spend a lot of time teaching the reader how to use open source tools like sar, OProfile, and others to profile system performance and find out what bottlenecks exist on a system.

Where they’re a bit weaker is in actually instructing the reader how to improve system performance. Obviously, if one finds that disk access is the problem, then the answer is to try to beef the system up to better handle I/O intensive tasks or to try to spread the load out a little more (or both). But, there’s not as much direction on actually tuning a server for better performance as I’d hoped.

I also feel that the IBM title does a much better job of explaining the components that affect performance and giving the reader a more thorough understanding of the Linux subsystems. For example, I really liked Chapter 8 in Performance Tuning for Linux Servers, which goes into heavy detail on the Linux scheduler.

That’s not to say that the HP book is not a good title. It is, but it spends less time on theory and more time discussing specific tools for actually tracing down problems — which some readers may prefer. However, I felt that the IBM title was a bit more complete.

If at all possible, I’d recommend that readers pick up both titles. However, either title would be a worthwhile investment for readers who are not familiar with the vast array of performance measuring tools available for Linux. For many admins, it’s often a mystery as to why a system isn’t running at peak performance or why a server is bogging down or crashing unexpectedly. These titles will help, in many cases, to solve those mysteries.

Performance Tuning for Linux Servers
Edited by Sandra K. Johnson, Ph.D, Gerrit Huizenga, and Badari Pulavarty.
IBM Press
ISBN 0-13-144753-X
547 pages, $54.99

Optimizing Linux Performance: A Hands-On Guide to Linux Performance Tools
By Phillip G. Ezolt
Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference
ISBN 0-13-148682-9
353 pages, $49.99

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