CBT Nuggets is an online learning platform hosting dozens of training courses from big players like Cisco. The website claims the organisation started selling short IT training DVDs on eBay and that has snowballed into the international training portal which the site is today.
Payment of a monthly fee (around $84 per person – that’s about £65) gives you access to all available courses. Registration is simple, provided you have a valid credit card. There's also a 7-day free trial before your card is billed.
There are nine Linux-specific courses on the platform. This review focuses on the Ubuntu Linux course, available as a series of video lectures (nicknamed ‘nuggets’) delivered by instructor Shawn Power, which details how to install, administer and maintain your own Ubuntu Server. The CBT website mentions that Power is an associate editor of the digital magazine Linux Journal, so it's clear he's well-qualified to teach this subject.
There are no prerequisites for doing the course, although if you're entirely unfamiliar with Linux, you're probably best off doing the Linux Essentials course which can also be accessed on the CBT platform.
This is important as in order to get started you need a ‘virtualisation environment’ which supports PXE booting, such as a machine running via the program VirtualBox, as well as the ISO images for Ubuntu, which can be downloaded from Canonical.
Assuming you're comfortable with the basics of setting up your own virtual machine and have an Ubuntu ISO image, you can get started by watching the 20 training videos that make up the Ubuntu course.
CBT Nuggets has gone to some lengths to make this a painless process for you, as instead of watching videos on your computer, you can download a mobile app to an Android, Apple or Amazon device and watch them there. The app, like the website, can keep track of which videos you've already played.
The website also allows you to record notes in a special tab as you watch each video, and every clip comes with a video transcript, which you can copy into the notes tab and annotate to your heart's content. Some of the videos also have a quiz section to allow you to check what you've learned so far.
Although Ubuntu has become most famous (and popular) for being a desktop distribution, the instructor takes some time to explain the advantages of Ubuntu Server at the start of the course, such as the benefits of employing an LTS (Long Term Support) distro. This section also details the lifecycle of Ubuntu and distinguishes it from Debian, the distro on which it's based.
The setup process covered in the training course is for Ubuntu 13.04 LTS, which is no longer supported. However, as you'll be interacting with the server via SSH, the videos do not seem to be dated.
The next sections focus on hard drives, installation and setup. The hard drives topic in particular is an excellent guide for would-be server administrators, as it explains the differences between partition types. The install process advises using the cross-platform utility UNetbootin to install the minimal Ubuntu ISO, which is only around 40MB in size. This means it only takes a few minutes to create the installation USB drive. The installation guide also shows how to configure a virtual machine to boot from an Ubuntu ISO image.
The initial setup section also explains the difference between the official Ubuntu repositories and those managed by third-parties. This is essential knowledge for anyone creating their own server. This section also briefly mentions the handy 'screen' tool which allows you to run multiple programs at once.
The networking section details various interfaces, as well as Udev, Upstart and managing the firewall. The following videos then allow you to consolidate what you've learned so far and learn about specific types of setups such as DNS, databases and mail servers.
There's also a detailed 'security' video on how to harden your new server. This includes using AppArmor which is installed by default in Ubuntu, and determines exactly what data can be accessed by each program.
The course continues by explaining the differences between virtualisation, clouds and containers. This includes a quick demonstration on how to set up a private container in Ubuntu, which is incredibly simple to do.
The final two videos very sensibly focus on how to use recovery tools as well as where to go should you need further help. This includes a brief rundown on IRC which is the preferred chat protocol for savvy Linux users.
This Ubuntu course is laid out logically and provides an excellent grounding in setting up your own server. If you're looking for reams of code to copy and paste, you may be disappointed as the instructor prefers simply to narrate his videos as he takes the steps in question. Nevertheless, the amount of material covered is huge, so it's small wonder he doesn't go into much detail.
As this course is already a few years old, it's possible that with the further passage of time, the content may become outdated – you should definitely use your most recent LTS version of Ubuntu Server rather than the version seen in the course.
The instructor has a wonderful flair for making boring concepts entertaining. On one occasion he uses his video lecture tool to draw a picture of a puppy as he launches into a detailed diatribe on software repositories. He also freely acknowledges his ‘nerdiness’ as he explains how he hosts his own copy of Ubuntu ISOs.
If you are able and willing to pay the subscription fee for CBT Nuggets, as mentioned, there are also further training courses you can make use of for Linux and indeed other platforms.