Your networks are connected, your emails are sending, and the printer is actually printing. It can be easy to take it for granted when the technology in your business is running smoothly, and that’s because there are System Administrators working hard around the clock to keep everything moving. On the occasions that something does fail, it’s often the SysAdmins who are responsible for fixing it and getting the business back on track as quickly as possible. These employees are valued members of every team, and every July, SysAdmin Appreciation Day rolls around to remind us all why they are the pillars of every industry.
To support this, Alan Conboy, office of the CTO at Scale Computing, identifies exactly why SysAdmins need to be respected not just this month but all year round.
“Consistent, reliable and responsive, system administrators (SysAdmins) are the backbone of our industry. Without them, we would be more susceptible to a number of issues, such as server failures, downtime and problems with upgrades and capacity. It’s great to have a day recognising all their hard work, and we should definitely carry out that praise the other 364 days of the year. Even in the midst of a crisis, SysAdmins maintain the team’s momentum to overcome IT challenges, with a plan of attack for the next time. Today is a good reminder for organisations to provide their SysAdmins with the tools, resources and words of encouragement they deserve to continue supporting our IT infrastructures."
Jon Lucas, co-director at Hyve Managed Hosting, advises businesses to ensure that SysAdmins are trained in the right skills, which can contribute towards making them feel valued.
“When it comes to hosting, SysAdmins are not only central to our business, but our customers’ businesses too. So, the question isn’t what do they do for our business – but rather, what don’t they do. SysAdmins handle all aspects of IT, keeping systems up and running and mitigating risks of downtime, meaning people in this role are required to have a very broad range of skills and knowledge. Obtaining and nurturing talent of this kind is something we take very seriously, as suitable candidates for the job are often hard to find. Because of this, we should definitely be taking time on SysAdmin Day to appreciate all of the work they do, as well as considering how we can continue to nurture future generations to ensure that the job is always lucrative and rewarding.”
Agata Nowakowska, AVP at Skillsoft, agrees with Lucas, adding: "There is a huge amount of pressure on SysAdmins to respond quickly and perform under pressure. By its very nature, the position is byzantine with the specific requirements for technical fluency varying greatly from one company to another. SysAdmins need to continually upskill – either on the job or by studying for an official IT certification to keep up with the constant evolution of technology.
“Furthermore, the demand for qualified SysAdmins usually far exceeds supply, making it highly beneficial to the company to ensure their SysAdmin feels appreciated.”
Maintaining infrastructure: the foundation of a business
One of the main aspects that makes SysAdmins so important to the daily functioning of a business is their ability to maintain the infrastructure that every employee relies on, as Gijsbert Janssen van Doorn, Technology Evangelist at Zerto, explains.
"The SysAdmin is directly responsible for the uptime, performance, and security of the systems they manage that the business depends on,” van Doorn comments. “It’s no mean feat, but the best thing a SysAdmin can do for your business is keep you online – and prevent outages. In some ways, they are the gatekeepers of IT resilience, so it’s important to recognise the role they play.
"It’s a tough job, and most systems administrators are all too familiar with the middle-of-the-night call to come in and fix things when the systems mysteriously go down. Organisations looking to support their SysAdmins should ensure that they are spending investing enough on resilient infrastructure – across backup, disaster recovery and cloud mobility. This will allow your SysAdmins to focus on building and managing systems for always-on and agile services, rather than constantly fighting to get the systems back online."
“SysAdmins spend a lot of time putting out fires,” believes Brett Cheloff, VP for ConnectWise Automate. “Whatever the issue, taking a reactive approach to problems is far less efficient than working proactively. Indeed, a proactive approach to solving internal or client-based infrastructure issues is far superior, allowing you to fix IT systems before they develop into serious problems.
“From managing security and ticket flow to conducting routine maintenance and proactive network monitoring, SysAdmins require expert efficiency to stay at the top of their game. Yet common pitfalls create time traps and extra work, and even the most seasoned technicians struggle to stay on top of everything a modern IT infrastructure requires.
“The right software can help make this process that much easier,” Cheloff continues. “This will give you valuable insight into workflow and efficiency. Second, search for software that facilitates system response monitoring. This will help improve overall response time, so you’ll spend less time putting fires out. The right product and processes in place means you’ll gain a firmer grip on proactive operations — and be more prepared to tackle reactive situations.”
Technology they support vs technology that supports them
Once the basic infrastructure is in place, SysAdmins may then also be responsible for more diverse technologies such as the cloud. Steve Armstrong, Regional Director, UK & Ireland at Bitglass, explains how cloud is becoming a crucial area for SysAdmins to master.
“Cloud adoption continues to rise as more organisations move away from premises-based tools to secure, flexible, easy-to-use cloud solutions. This shift is also impacting the role of the system administrator considerably. Today's SysAdmins are often focused on configuring, monitoring, and managing organisations' cloud infrastructure far more often than patching and administrating on-premises applications. As the role of a SysAdmin continues evolve, the best in the field are like human Swiss Army Knives, equipped with every skill needed to keep systems up and running while ensuring that all services are secure and properly configured."
Meanwhile Todd Krautkremer, CMO at Cradlepoint, believes that it is the launch of 5G that will have one of the biggest impacts on these administrators in the coming months and years.
“Just around the corner, IT Pros will have another tool in their toolbox – 5G, which promises to deliver gigabit speeds, low latencies, and low-cost IoT connectivity. 5G will enable a new generation of business applications poised to transform workforce productivity and customer experiences by leveraging virtual and augmented reality, remote-controlled robotics, telemedicine, and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.
“These team members have always been unsung heroes, but with such significant technology developments on the horizon, it’s time we start singing their praises.”
However, there are also automation technologies that SysAdmins can use for support, as Neil Barton, CTO at WhereScape, comments.
“System administrators (SysAdmins) have a variety of different responsibilities, but ensuring a businesses’ IT data infrastructure is maintained and ready to deliver insights and faster time to value is one of the most important. The role of the SysAdmin is proving even more crucial as business needs drive ever increasingly more frequent changes to data infrastructure, particularly in the deployment process and for keeping systems online and operating. Because of this, as a business, you don’t want your SysAdmin bogged down trying to prevent roadblocks. Automation solutions can help your SysAdmins by reducing the time, cost and risk of deploying changes to data infrastructure by eliminating manual tasks. SysAdmins can then ensure the data infrastructure is delivering results.”
SysAdmins play a part across the board
The work that SysAdmins do covers every business and every industry. Gregg Mearing, Head of Managed Services at Node4, explores how this role fits into an MSP.
“SysAdmins fulfil a vital role that is growing in importance. For many organisations, the impact of cloud and the increasing investment in managed services means IT teams in general need to work more effectively with external providers on a regular basis. For these organisations, SysAdmins are really important experts in the delivery of an effective cloud-based IT strategy. From the Managed Service Provider point of view, SysAdmins often become part of a wider co-operative team – their intimate knowledge of their company and its IT infrastructure remains as important as ever.”
Looking more broadly across industries, SysAdmins even crop up in our everyday public services, as Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds highlights.
“SysAdmins play a pivotal role in public sector organisations, sustaining the background activities that keep the U.K.’s public services up and running. Whether it’s life-saving technology in hospitals, confidential data held by the government, or official-sensitive information for the department of defence, SysAdmins are constantly working to ensure IT quality and functionality in these organisations are upheld. Undertaken against an evolving IT landscape, it’s important for IT leaders to prioritise training and tools to increase efficiency and enable SysAdmin teams to focus on delivering the vital systems they organise, install, and support. Because we know: it isn’t always the network.”
The bodyguards of business
At the end of the day, security is one of the biggest priorities of every business today – Stephen Gailey, Head of Solutions Architecture at Exabeam, celebrates how SysAdmins keep their companies safe, 24/7.
“No challenge is higher up the enterprise IT agenda than security. The IT Pros, such as SysAdmins, tasked with ensuring security in a modern enterprise require a Sherlock Holmes-esque persona – sifting through a slew of false positives and negatives that are part and parcel of the modern security environment.
“Thousands of logs are created every day and some are much more dangerous than others. To the untrained eye, each individual log may seem fine. As the Consulting Detective once said, there is a clear distinction between seeing and observing. It’s only when all of this activity is linked together that the real picture begins to emerge.
“It takes a truly skilled eye and the latest technology to detect a real threat as it forms amidst the clouds of uncertainty. IT pros know there are hundreds of adversaries out there, but with so many distractions, spotting the real threats takes skill: ‘The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance observes.’”
It is skills like this that make our SysAdmins the valuable employees that they are. Businesses across every industry would struggle to reach their goals and objectives if the day-to-day running of the company collapsed. Surely celebrating the essential work that SysAdmins do for us all is the least we can do?