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“The forgotten heroes of IT” – Looking back at SysAdmin Appreciation Day, 2020

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/niroworld)

Each year, on 31st July, System Administrator Appreciation Day is celebrated, with companies all over the world paying tribute to the heroic men and women that work behind the scenes to ensure that all businesses, organizations and companies continue to run smoothly.

SysAdmins can often get overlooked due to the fact that, if they’re doing their job properly, no one will realize. If everything is working and running smoothly with no issues, no one thinks twice – when actually, it’s thanks to the hardworking SysAdmins. This year, six IT leaders spoke to ITProPortal to share their appreciation for SysAdmins around the globe.

2020 – a memorable year

2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year, and the added pressure of this will have mounted onto the stress of a SysAdmin’s job. As Harrison Wigg, Production Engineer at Content Guru, explains, “Where a SysAdmin’s role is already stressful under normal circumstances – managing all the computers and IT in a company’s building, supporting staff and keeping everyone online – this year there have been added pressures. With organizations and schools everywhere undergoing a monumental shift to homeworking, it has been the SysAdmins working behind the scenes to ensure this is done as efficiently and securely as possible. We have had to ensure that physical equipment, from servers to laptops, is suited to this new working environment, and have supported staff by migrating equipment – from monitors to chairs – home for them. We have also had to ensure that employees’ home setups are going to be efficient, from a connectivity, security and productivity point of view.”

This is a notion that Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft, agrees with. Nowakowska comments that, “SysAdmins are the unsung heroes in any organization,” and that “This has been especially true during the pandemic, where they have faced the additional challenges of managing IT infrastructure and databases remotely.”

“But,” as Nowakowska continues, “the SysAdmin role was no easy feat pre-COVID. SysAdmins face rising pressures and are expected to have a detailed knowledge of various technical programming languages. They need to be available at a moment's notice, ready to support numerous new technologies as organizations power ahead with digital transformation.

"We should mark SysAdmin day this year by not only showing our appreciation for the role SysAdmins have played during the recent shift to remote working, but by increasing the ongoing support and training we offer people in this essential role. Organizations need to provide the opportunities for their SysAdmins to upskill and learn new certifications so they can continue to provide valuable support, even during periods of great change."

It’s not just the technology industry that has been thanking SysAdmins this year. Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds points out that, “This year, the U.K. public sector has been faced with more challenges than it’s tackled in decades. While doctors and nurses have been saving lives and the central government has determined how to keep the country running, the IT systems on which this sector relies have been mission-critical.

“From the systems behind the NHS 111 helpline to the data collection and analysis shared by Number 10, technology has underpinned it all. It has also helped ensure many non-frontline employees can work from home safely and securely. SysAdmins are the team members working behind the scenes to uphold IT quality and functionality in all organizations, and to keep systems from suffering downtime—and this can be the difference between life and death, particularly during a pandemic. As the country begins to recover, it’s crucial for IT leaders to recognize the hard work of their SysAdmins and their vital role over the last few months, and they should provide training and tools to help them do their jobs even better.”

The real heroes behind ‘business as usual’

‘Business as usual’ and ‘always available’ is a concept that has become ingrained in today’s culture. Downtime, outages and any kind of interruption is enough to put potential customers off and damage a company’s reputation. The SysAdmin has the important job of not only making sure IT services are continually up and running, but essentially ensuring the business’s reputation is kept to a high standard.

Raif Mehmet, VP EMEA at Bitglass comments that, “The rationale behind SysAdmin Day is as true today as it was when Ted Kekatos set it up 21 years ago. The simple fact is that most users don’t think about IT until something goes wrong. As more companies move their IT to the cloud, the role of the Sysadmin has become ever more complex as companies now need to manage comprehensive cloud security platforms too. And as more of us are now working remotely using personal devices, the probability that something will go wrong is multiplied by several factors.”

Mehmet goes on to explain that a recent study, “found that 69 percent of respondents said that they are allowed to use personal devices to perform their work, while some even enable BYOD for contractors, partners, customers and suppliers. Enter stage left the Sysadmin, or wider IT / IT Security team, to fix things when they break (which they will) – whether that’s down to drive-by malware, or a coffee spill. It’s no mean feat to deliver the balance of productivity and security.

“Ultimately,” Mehmet concludes, “a key responsibility of sysadmins is to keep the lights on, or in other words, uptime – and for that they deserve to be celebrated 365 days of the year, not just one day in July!”

JG Heithcock, GM, Retrospect, a StorCentric company backs up Mehmet’s notion, commenting that “You can only have a successful remote team deployment with constant communication, which requires reliable, responsive and resourceful team members – three key attributes of SysAdmins.

“SysAdmins help to protect and recover data when disaster strikes in the form of ransomware, hardware failure, or other incidents. As we continue to work remotely and consider hybrid working environments in the future, it’s important for organizations to optimize their businesses and provide SysAdmins with the resources needed to seamlessly transition to this new normal by implementing the latest AI technologies to backup engines where possible and consolidate backup management to a single pane of glass. By securing and maintaining backups, SysAdmins will have the tools necessary to streamline workflows with efficient and reliable data backup solutions to keep businesses running and protected across changing working environments.”

Krishna Subramanian, COO at Komprise summaries the importance of appreciating SysAdmins nicely, by stating:

“SysAdmins are the forgotten heroes of IT. Think about it – if something doesn't work, or if something goes wrong, it’s their ‘fault’ and they’re expected to fix it. But, if everything is working correctly and there are no issues, then they go unnoticed, even though they are the ones keeping all critical operations up and running.

“The work SysAdmins do is imperative to business operations. If you lose access to your data, you can’t do anything. Keeping data available and secure is a big job, but it’s thankless – something needs to change.

“SysAdmins deserve more recognition, and there are ways this can be done subtly. For example, there are data management tools and platforms out there with dashboards that showcase the business value that SysAdmins deliver to management. It’s worth keeping this in mind and to take the time today to really appreciate just how successful your business is thanks to the forgotten heroes that are SysAdmins.”

Multiple industry experts