Every so often I'll come across a rare gem of a book. It might be a book about woodworking, DNS, Arp spoofing or even ways to make a good bean soup. Administrating Windows Server 2012 R2 Training Guide by Orin Thomas is one of those rare finds. I don't work much with servers and I thank the lord for that. However, it is amazing to learn what a difficult job that really is. The book isn't really a study guide to prepare you for the 70-411 certification. Orin Thomas seems to have written this book for those of you who probably already have that credential but need a great operators manual.
If you are a sys admin with a few years under your weary eyes and you are running Windows Server 2012, this book is for you. It even says so in the beginning of the book. Yet, the contents start you from the beginning of setting of a server and lead you all the way through the steps of setting up accounts, creating policies, maintaining/housecleaning and branching off into many sophisticated ways to manage your job responsibilities.
As with all Microsoft publications the guide is clear, clean and concise (that was a joke for those of you who never had to read any of their security publications before TechNet came along). Mr. Thomas turned his years of sweat and blisters as a sys admin into an easy to understand manual for those running Windows Servers. He approaches the reader with caution by letting them know that there are several ways to do a given task and the reader is free to choose their pain level. He offers the reader his own opinion on ways to accomplish difficult or time consuming tasks with hints as to why you will want to follow his advice instead of making your life more difficult.
In other words, he doesn't tell the reader that they have to do a task one specific way but if the reader wants to do it another way, he give them straight advice as to why they should follow his method. That is what I love about the book. The guide is overflowing with mentoring tips to ease the job of administering Windows Servers 2012.
Take chapter two Managing account policies and services accounts, as an example. Passwords are painful to work with. Sys admins have been known to make policies either too stringent or too lax. Nobody in an organization is ever happy with password policies, more-so the people who set up those policies and the help desk personnel who have to reset forgotten passwords. Chapter two is written with what appears to be many years of experience in the area of trying to make everyone happy regarding passwords. I felt Mr. Thomas's pain as he gently nudges the reader to be cautious when establishing password policies.
The author provided excellent tips and outstanding recommendations on which settings should be used and why those were the best options. Only a person with several years of people complaining to them would truly appreciate the sound decisions he proposes (those weary eyed ones). If you happen to be recently 70-411 certified, heed the information in this book. Think of this guide as your roadmap to a successful career as a server administrator. It has plenty of helpful material to help you study for the certification but I felt it serves a higher purpose as a “How to do your job” guide.
This book alone will not be enough to get you to pass the 70-411 examination and the authors makes that quite clear throughout the guide. I was surprised to find out how much Windows server installations, configurations, maintenance and supervision relied on the command line interface otherwise known as Windows Powershell. What happened to GUI? There are default settings for everything with Windows Server 2012 but no network is ever a cut and paste network. There is plenty of settings that have to be manually adjusted and Mr. Thomas goes through all of them in great detail. He also explains alternatives to his methods as well as the consequences or possible outcomes of not adhering to his suggestions.
The guide provides small segments for each chapter topic, sort of like hit and runs. He shoots the important information to the reader, gives examples and instructions for completing the task and then summarizes what he just wrote about. Next, he reenforces the subtopic knowledge by giving the reader a couple of basic questions. Then, he is on to the next subtopic. Once the full task is covered, he goes into exercises that follow step by step on how to perform the task that was just read.
The reader is expected to either set up a virtual server using a trial version of Windows Server 2012 or the reader is already administering a server. Either way, the reader is walked and talked through every function they can expect to see as part of their role as a sys admin. The book doesn't just focus on setting up a single server, rather each chapter tells the reader how to run all types of servers and all sorts of functions. I had no idea that a service could have it's own account. That's in the book too.
One of my favorite parts of each chapter is where Mr. Thomas provides a segment called Real World. Each of these segments cover mistakes most administrators make, why they make those mistakes and how the reader can avoid the pain of making those same mistakes. Again, this book was written by someone who has experienced years of pain as a sys admin and has taken notes on every one of those painful mistakes.
I heard that high levels of stress will shorten your life. Save your own life and buy this book.
Read it, then read it again. Keep it in your car or hide it in your desk so others around you don't know where you are getting all this wisdom from. If you keep it in your car, you can run out to your vehicle when a problem arises and come back to the office with a brilliant solution. If you place it on your desk where others might see it, put a fake book cover over it so that others will think you are a Windows 2012 server guru. This guide will reduce your chances of having a stress-based heart attack and increase your pay scale, I would almost guarantee except that I'm neither a doctor nor your employee.