Has the day-to-day job of server administrators gotten easier in the last few years, given the quality of products and software currently available?

Joseph Videtto February 9, 2013
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As a person that switched from and IT job to a non-IT job, and working in a school where we are currently considering moving to a Thin-Client / Server model, I’m wondering how much time it would take me to play the role of ‘server administrator’ for our school, given that it is a volunteer position with no allocated work time for it.

In the past, (about 10 years ago), I remember that server administrators needed a lot of detailed product knowledge and hardware knowledge. Also, I realize the roles and responsibilities for a server administrator are different in different companies. And of course, your answers will be based on the particular software/hardware products and platforms with which you work.

Taking into account your personal experiences given the variations listed above, I ask:

Has the server administrator job gotten easier in recent years due to improved s/w and h/w products ? If so – how has it gotten harder, and how has it gotten easier ? What server products have you found to require the least in-depth knowledge, and causing the least user and maintenance problems (esp. in terms of Thin-Client solutions) ?

If I’ve left out information – please interpret the question in a way in which you’ll have something meaningful to add : )

  1. Jan Fritsch
    February 10, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    I believe the focus of the work has switched a bit while the "load of work" is pretty much the same.

    It's like buying a used car. At the beginning it's all fixing problems (crash, hang, configuration), at the end it's about tweaking stuff and getting the most value or performance out of it (less system load, more performance, virtualization).

    I don't think the reliability of software and hardware has changed much.
    For example in the last 5 years I've seen more Intel Macs failing than PPCs (which obviously have a lot more years on their back) within the same time.

    It's more that people have gotten smarter and are more aware about the importance of initial setup, proper handling and use, etc...

    Just because a system is running doesn't mean it's running fine. Most issues nowadays can't be seen by looking at the surface (is it working, is the service running?) but within the details, the log files, activity monitoring, etc.

    If the server is always running on high load what is the reason for that? Is it something you can fix or tweak?
    If the server is always running on low load what can you do to make better use of the remaining performance?

    Once all of the above are sorted you can start asking yourself what you can do to make your work and/or the work of the people easier e.g. new features, services.

    The work of an sysadmin never stops. It's only the ambition doing something that's holding one back. If I did look at things in terms of "it's working" and "it's not" I sure could sit back a week or two and do nothing. But personally that's not how I consider doing my job.

    You shouldn't sit there and wait for something to break. You should monitor, analyze and prevent it from breaking in the first place.

  2. Nikhil Goswami
    February 10, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    There are phases... Initial setup phases are always challenging... Once the setup has been done, regular maintenance phase is generally easy (unless you go for upgrades and all... that would require testing compatibility, etc)
    That said, in my opinion, these days the perception of the sys admin job is that it is easier than it used to be. Well, that is due to reason that the readily available information at hand is enormous. Cant be compared to what it used to be 10 years back. Plus, there are hundreds of tools that could do all the daily mundane work. Thats a real time saver.

  3. Oron Joffe
    February 10, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Joe, it's difficult to give a "one size fits all" answer to this since, as you said, sysadmins do different things in different places. Still, managing a set of thin clients and their servers requires a lot of knowledge. If you are not an expert in the field, you need someone who is, as you will not have the time to "figure things out" and in school environment, you are unlikely to have plenty of experts in that area to fall back on.
    If you decide to go for a thin client solution (which I understand you are considering, and which I myself have suggested you do in other threads), I suggest you get a contract with a company that will supply a "full package" - servers, software, configuration and thin clients (or software for the existing machines to turn them into thin clients). Get the company to include tech-support in the contract. You may be able to negotiate with them to train you in specific immediate tasks (adding and removing users, updating clients etc), but make sure they deal with the bulk of the troubleshooting or more-complex operations. This way you can remain responsible for getting things done, but be sure that any serious problem can be dealt with by somebody who does this for a living and knows the product and the technology inside-out.

  4. Yiz Borol
    February 10, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    I think the job hasn't really changed. a year ago a small school (think 30-40 students) asked me to setup their network and make sure it stayed up and stuff, it wasn't really very "easy" I think it depends on the level of work they expect, if they're okay with printers being down for a days at a time and similar issues, then it's okay to not have a dedicated staffer for sys admin but if they want everything spic and span then I doubt you could fill that role in a volunteer capacity.

  5. Junil Maharjan
    February 10, 2013 at 4:05 am

    the job of a system admin is never easy though it has become somewhat easy but has also become harder due to increasing number of hackers and softwares that has the ability to penetrate systems without much effort.