What system administrator responsibilities are paramount today?

System administrator responsibilities are, fundamentally, about the care and feeding of systems but cover a broad range of possibilities when looking at a specific position.

A system administrator (sometimes abbreviated as sysadmin) is a person responsible for managing a multiuser computing...

environment, such as a local area network, with its attendant infrastructure (routers, switches, appliances, and other components), servers (general computation, print, and storage), and client devices (desktop or laptop PCs and mobile devices). System administrator responsibilities typically include installing and configuring system hardware and software, establishing and managing user accounts, upgrading software, and performing backup and recovery tasks.

The scope of system administrator responsibilities is very broad, in that it can apply to a small company or single office environment but can scale all the way up to a complex data center, with hundreds to thousands of servers and physical and virtual networking and service infrastructures. The care and feeding of systems is part and parcel of the system administrator job, but that function can cover a multitude of possibilities when looking at specific positions and the responsibilities that go with them.

General responsibilities of a sysadmin

System administrator responsibilities generally include working with one or more of the major server operating systems as part of their day-to-day routine, among them Windows Server and various versions of Linux, such as Windows Server, with the 2008 and 2012 versions now most widely in use. (A new version, Windows Server 2016, is expected to make its debut in mid-to-late 2016, following end of life for Windows Server 2003 on July 15, 2015.)

Also in the OS mix: various versions of Linux, with Red Hat Enterprise Linux the most popular business choice, but also other versions, like those covered in the three levels of the Linux Professional Institute Certification program. All of these organizations offer IT certifications that are potentially valuable to aspiring system administrators, including the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (especially Server Infrastructure and Private Cloud), the Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator and Engineer credentials.

Virtual understanding now key

Nowadays, an understanding of virtualization is an essential part of systems administration. To that end, today's administrators must be familiar with hypervisor and emerging container technologies. An understanding of one or more of the major hypervisors (the software environments responsible for defining, configuring and operating virtual machines) comes highly recommended. The major options under this heading include VMware, Citrix, Microsoft Hyper-V and KVM, with a great many more minor options also available. Related certifications from the first three vendors are widely available, while the Linux Foundation offers highly regarded training on KVM.

Likewise, system administrator responsibilities now require that sysadmins be familiar with a wide spectrum of networking technologies and possess the skills and knowledge necessary to support a modern enterprise network.

In sum, system administrator responsibilities require that the sysadmin be something of a jack of all trades when it comes to system and network administration and management. This kind of position requires someone who is diligent and who possesses an unquenchable thirst for knowledge -- along with the curiosity to satisfy that thirst.

Next Steps

How to prep for asysadmin job interview

How a current systems administrator views his responsibilities

Be a Linux-savvy sysadmin: Build one yourself

This was last published in June 2016

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