Definition

system administrator (sysadmin)

In information technology (IT), a system administrator (sysadmin) is a person who supports a multi-user computing environment and ensures continuous, optimal performance of IT services and support systems.

System administrator job responsibilities vary greatly among employers. In a large enterprise, the title system administrator may be used to describe any administrator who is responsible for a specialized IT system such the one that supports servers. Depending upon the specialty, the systems administrator may also be known as a data center administrator, a network operations center (NOC) administrator, a virtualization administrator, a server administrator or a database administrator.

Smaller IT departments generally give the system administrator position a wider scope of responsibilities, and in some organizations, a sysadmin may need to support everything from end user desktop computers, to the organization's local area network (LAN), wireless LAN (WLAN), voice over IP (VoIP) phone system and hybrid cloud storage. Depending upon the organization’s culture, the system administrator may also be referred to as a system operator (SysOp) or application support engineer (ASE).

Systems administrator duties and skills

Due to the wide range of job responsibilities for system administrators in various organizations, system administrators' job skill requirements are often broad, as are salary ranges. In general, sysadmins must be comfortable working with application and file servers, desktops, networks, databases, information security systems and storage. Familiarity with multiple operating systems, as well as scripting and programming, is often required. Increasingly, virtualization and cloud computing skills have also become essential to the job.

Because tasks generally include provisioning, configuring and managing physical and virtual servers, as well as the software that runs on the servers and the hardware that supports them, a system administrator should feel comfortable installing and troubleshooting IT resources, establishing and managing user accounts, upgrading and patching software, and performing backup and recovery tasks.

Nontechnical skills are equally important for sysadmins. Because the system administrator interacts with people in so many areas of IT and business, soft skills (people skills) are just as necessary as hard skills. When IT services are slow or down entirely, a system administrator must be able to work under pressure, read a situation as it unfolds and quickly decide upon a response that yields the best result for all involved. 

IT system administrator certifications

System administrators are expected to have at least one, but preferably multiple, certifications for the job. Depending on the technologies used within an enterprise, common certifications in demand include Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), CompTIA Server+, Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA).

This was last updated in January 2017

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