This year once again we saw the industry fanfare to celebrate the 17th anniversary of sysadmin day at the end of July. Axel Schmidt of TeamViewer takes the opportunity to reflect on how the role has changed over the last two decades and how it will change in the future.
Usually hidden behind the scenes, system admin staff are the bloodline of all large organisations, keeping the office running like clockwork. The role of a sysadmin varies from company to company. Many install and maintain servers, computer equipment and networks. As well as taking care of phone systems and allowing employees access to work on smartphones and tablets. They set up secure email, install and configure work stations, allocate storage space and make sure employees can work as efficiently as possible. But as the way organisations operate evolves, so too does the role of sysadmin.
The last ten years has seen a surge in cloud adoption across organisations globally, along with digitisation and market consolidation. Research from Veritas indicates that roughly 74 percent of UK enterprises with 500 or more employees are currently operating in multi-cloud environments.
Popular applications like Microsoft Office 365 manage service and storage without the need for on-site help, by using virtualised servers, which means less contact with physical equipment. It’s new technology like virtualised servers that calls for sysadmin staff to bring a broader range of skills into their roles.
Of course, someone still has to do the heavy lifting to move an organisation to the cloud or set up the virtual servers, and that person is the sysadmin. However, the image of them wearing a headlamp and connecting wires in a server room has gone. Now they will be integrating new software with legacy systems and training staff to use it.
But then what? What is left for the sysadmin to do on a day-to-day basis if there are no more servers, and cloud providers handle service and maintenance for all their apps? Many in the IT industry are raising these questions, and there is speculation that this third digital revolution will result in obsolescence of IT and system admin jobs. Nevertheless, the prevailing view seems to be that the sysadmin role is not going away, and experts predict that the fading traditional roles will be replaced with far more exciting ones that focuses on the cloud and digitalisation.
1. Mobile devices
When it comes to mobile devices, sysadmin staff are still in demand. As more employees work away from the office, whether that be at home or while travelling, system admin staff have the difficult task of making sure mobile devices are secure and safe for employees to use, as well as making sure that all applications work on multiple devices.
Remote support tools are out there, which sysadmin staff can use to help those not working in the office but the biggest problem they face is security. Those who are not working in the office are not protected by the firewalls many organisations have in place. This burden then falls to the sysadmin who needs to remain connected to off-site employees and make sure that their software has the latest security defence, as well as the latest application updates and tools to ensure working off-site is efficient and easy.
The challenge is that not all organisations provide mobile phones, tablets and laptops, some rely on their employees to use their personal devices. The obvious problem with this is that not everyone uses the same type of device. Some may use Android, others will use iOS, and not all remote support tools provision both.
It’s difficult to keep so many devices and applications in check, and with the recent hype surrounding security, it is arguable one of the most important roles of sysadmin at this time.
2. Increased security threats
The cloud is not yet fully trusted with the responsibility or smart enough to keep up with with increasing threat of viruses or hackers. Managing security on all aspects of an organisations technology is a demanding task, and though cloud providers have their own firewalls and virus protections, company email systems and in-house data are vulnerable. We have seen the increased media exposure on hackers and their growth over the years. The sysadmin plays a vital role in keeping office systems safe and are needed in their roles to save organisations from crashing during cyber attacks.
As mentioned previously, security is by far one of the most critical roles played by sysadmin teams – and one that is likely to increase in importance in the future.
3. Dev Ops
A new role that will increasingly become available for sysadmin staff is more strategic and exciting. Instead of putting out fires, sysadmins will work with the CIO to figure out where the business needs to invest for the future. This will include being heavily involved in developing systems, by becoming a part of a DevOps team that looks ahead to plan the long-term evolution and lifecycle of products. The new sysadmin role will be to calculate growth rate and make sure appropriate infrastructure is in place.
4. The right technology to help you along the way
Digital transformation is a term commonly used these days and there’s an increased demand for organisations to make sure they are using the latest technology which is fit for purpose. However, being ‘fit’ is not only defined by how outdated an organisation’s technology is. Much rather it’s also about the planning that marketing and IT departments put in place for on-boarding foundational technology such as digital experience platforms.
As technology transforms, so does the way employees use it, adding a training role to the sysadmin team’s responsibilities. And this is not just a onetime change. Technology will continue to evolve and employees will once again rely on the sysadmin team to train them on the new software. They will also play a role in researching what the latest technology is in order to keep the organisation ahead, maintaining their ‘fitness’ level.
New technology platforms are not a cure all and should not be seen this way. What is important is how they are deployed, which will help determine competitive advantage for companies, and this is where the sysadmin has a crucial role to play. By having a sysadmin team that can look for the latest technologies and keep staff up to date with this, organisations will improve in terms of growth and client satisfaction.
Sometimes sysadmins also need support
As their roles and responsibilities evolve, sysadmin’s also need support, and there are solutions in the market that do just that. These tools include functions for monitoring, asset management, anti-malware and backup software. The best solutions let you create individual rules and anticipate breakdowns, even before users are aware of a problem on their device. TeamViewer’s ITbrain is one example, as it sets out to be a pro-active tool for IT support teams. By using solutions like this, sysadmin professionals can stay one step ahead of a problem, and keep employee’s efficiency up and issues at bay.
Frank Ziarno, TeamViewer
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