Network and computer systems administrators are professionals who are responsible for designing, installing, and supporting computer systems within an organization. They are responsible for establishing and maintaining networks, including local-area networks (LAN), wide-area networks (WAN), and/or Internet/intranet systems. The scope of their duties and responsibilities often depends on the size of the organization they work for. The job exists in a wide variety of organizations, from small businesses to government agencies to large corporations. Based on the needs of their customers, administrators identify and evaluate system and network requirements and then implement and maintain the hardware and software which meets those needs. The job involves the monitoring of large and small networks, analysis and troubleshooting of problems, and the planning and coordination of network security measures.
Network and systems administrators need to make sure that all components of a network are working together properly. For this reason, the scope of their responsibility is typically not confined to a single device or even to a small group of them. Nor is it confined to one aspect of a system. All components of a network, including hardware, software, and communication among components need to coordinate properly. Also, the performance of existing networks must continuously be monitored, adjusted, and surveyed to determine future network needs. In addition to troubleshooting problems reported by users and by automated network monitoring systems, administrators must also keep abreast of the latest technological advances and be prepared to make recommendations for future system upgrades.
The primary function of a network and system administrator is to install, support, and maintain the components of a computer system, including servers and networking elements. In addition, administrators are typically responsible for maintaining cognizance of the newest technologies in order to determine how these can be configured to best serve the short- and long-term goals of their organizations. Although the specific duties of a system administrator tend to vary widely from one organization to another, responsibilities may include any or all of the following:
- maintenance of network hardware and software
- determination of system hardware and software requirements
- ensuring continuous network availability to all system users
- performance of necessary maintenance to support network availability
- supervision of network support and client server specialists
- identification of potential issues with computer systems or network
- planning and implementation of network security measures
- recommendation of changes to improve systems and network configurations
- maintenance of parts inventory for repairs
- implementation of updates, patches, and configuration changes
- configuration and testing of operating system and networking hardware and software
- performance of routine network startup and shutdown procedures
- performance of routine backups
- maintenance of control records
- coordination of computer network access and use
Network and systems administrators can be found in many types of business environments, including those associated with industry, government, manufacturing, and education. They normally work in comfortable offices or environmentally-controlled computer laboratories which can sometimes be cold. A typical work week is a standard 40 hours; however many administrators tend to be "on call" for extended evening or weekend duty. Overtime is not uncommon due to the significant possibility of unexpected computer or network technical problems arising. Administrators who work as consultants can be away from their offices for extended periods of time and may need to work in a client's office for weeks or even months at a time. To an increasing extent, administrators are now often able to provide technical support from remote locations, reducing the need to travel to a customer's workplace.
The job is usually performed in a comfortable setting and the profession tends to be interesting and generally well-paying. Drawbacks are the negatives commonly associated with workers who type on a keyboard for long periods, including back discomfort, eyestrain, and hand/wrist problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Frequent deadlines and the importance of accuracy and precision can be causes for stress. Also, the need to constantly interact with people (e.g., customers and fellow employees) in answering questions and giving advice, while satisfying, can also be frustrating at times, particularly if the computer systems are not working like they are supposed to.
People who are successful in this field need to have strong analytical and problem-solving skills. Just as importantly (or even more importantly), they need good communication skills due to the fact that helping others and troubleshooting problems for them are vital parts of the job. The need to constantly interact with others requires administrators to possess good "people skills" and to be able to communicate effectively over the phone, on paper, via e-mail, and face-to-face. In addition, good writing skills are an added plus due to the importance of preparing user manuals and other types of documentation for employees and customers.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS), employment of network and systems administrators is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations over the next several years. Demand for administrators may be fueled by an increased investment in new technologies by firms combined with an ongoing reliance on computer networks as an integral part of business. The trend towards electronic commerce and a growing reliance on mobile technologies may enhance the use of the Internet as a tool for conducting business online. Systems administrators are likely to be needed to manage this technology for organizations that want to use it to communicate with employees, clients, and consumers. A growing emphasis on cybersecurity, technology to protect vital computer networks and electronic infrastructures from attack, is expected to add to the growth in new system administrator jobs. It should be noted that this overall job growth projection may be tempered somewhat by offshore outsourcing, as firms are increasingly inclined to transfer work to countries with skilled workers who demand lower prevailing wages.
College graduates who are proficient in state-of-the-art technological skills can benefit most greatly from the anticipated job growth in the administrator field. Those who have supplemented their formal education with relevant work experience may be in an especially advantageous position. Employers are likely to place a high premium on job candidates who possess an attractive combination of strong fundamental computer skills and good interpersonal and communication skills.
Education, Certification, and Licensing
To an increasing extent, a bachelor's degree in computer science, business, or a related field is required to enter this profession. Employers in smaller organizations may require only an associate degree or certificate combined with some level of on-the-job experience. Some larger firms may require a master's in business administration (MBA) degree. Some colleges and universities now tailor segments of their Computer Science program specifically to systems administration and some have started offering undergraduate degrees in Systems Administration.
Generally speaking, administrators should have some experience with the specific computer or network system they are expected to manage. There are hundreds of industry certifications available, some of them product or vendor-specific and others more general. In many cases, candidates for network and systems administrator jobs are expected to possess one or more of these. Some of the most desirable and widely-recognized include the following:
- CompTIA's A+ or Network+
- Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), Network Administrator (CCNA), or Network Professional (CCNP)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)
- Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)
- Linux Professional Institute Certification Level 2 (LPIC-2)
- Novell Certified Linux Professional (CLP)
- Sun Certified Network Administrator (SCNA)
- BSD Certification
There are many avenues open to the network and systems administration professional who wishes to enhance his/her skills or advancement opportunities. Continuing education programs are regularly offered by employers, hardware and software vendors, colleges and universities, and training institutions. In addition, many firms make professional development seminars and conferences readily available on a periodic basis.
- The League of Professional System Administrators
- National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies
- CompTIA Certification
- BSD Certification
- Big Admin (System Administrator Resources and Community)
- Free Tips and Tricks for IT System and Network Administrators
- Systems Administrators Guild (SAGE)
Although many network and systems administrators work in high technology industries, the profession is by no means confined to this business segment. Administrators exist throughout the economy, in virtually every type of industry including those in both the private sector and in government. Employers range from startup companies to established industry leaders. Some examples of organizations that employ system/network administrators are: financial institutions, insurance companies, educational institutions, health care organizations, software publishers, and telecommunications organizations. The increasing emphasis on client-server applications, the expansion of the Internet, and the ongoing demand for end-user support combine to make network and systems administrators in demand virtually everywhere.