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Unix system administrators can administer systems in three different environments
The level of specialization among administrators of the same hierarchical level in large organizations is also higher with typically specialized admin responsible for backup (say DataProtector-based) and monitoring (say Tivoli based). Often all flavors of Unix are present in the environment so there are categories of admin specializing in each flavor or a couple of flavors (it is difficult to become proficient in more then two). Say one administrator is the primary specialist in Solaris but also knows Linux well, the other is primary specialist in HP-UX and AIX so on.
Also at enterprise level there is considerably more politics and red tape involved in the sysadmin job in comparison with smaller sites.
Here are example of qualifications for a senior enterprise Unix administrator from a Monster job advertisement:
Enterprise environment has many requirements that "admin-in-large" should met addition to usual "sysadmins-in-small" staff typical for small companies. Nearly half of U.S. IT jobs involve the maintenance of computers and/or software -- approximately 270,000 people.
System administration skills can be classified in four general levels. The links below discuss the required skills, desired skills, and responsibilities of each of those levels. Following the levels are some general thoughts on system administration in general.Novice Junior Intermediate/advanced Senior Some thoughts on System Administration.
Novice System Administrator:
- Has strong inter-personal and communication skills: is capable of explaining simple procedures in writing or verbally; has good phone skills.
- Is familiar with Unix and its commands/utilities at the user level. Can edit files using more than one editor. Uses at least two shells one of them being the Bourne shell.
- Can perform standard file processing tasks; find, move, remove, redirection.
- Two years of college or equivalent post-high school education or experience.
- A degree or certificat in computer science or related field.
- Previous experience in customer support, computer operations, system administration, or another related area.
- Motivated to advance in the profession.
- Perform routine tasks under the direct supervision of a more experienced administrator.
- Be the front-line interface for users; accepting problem reports and passing them to the appropriate system administrators.
- Performs some security functions, especially monitoring the system
Junior System Administrator:
- Has strong inter-personal and communication skills: capable of training users in applications and Unix fundamentals. Able to write basic system and user documentation.
- High skill level with most Unix commands and utilities.
- Familiar with most basic system administration tools and tasks. For example, can cleanly boot and shutdown the system, add and remove user accounts, use backup programs, perform fsck and maintain system database files (groups, hosts, aliases, etc.)
- Fundamental understanding of the functioning of the Unix operating system: for example understands job control, hard and soft linking, the difference between shell programs and kernel programs.
- Basic understanding of Unix security procedures
- One to three years of system administration experience.
- Degree in CS or a related field.
- Familiarity with networked/ distributed computing environments. For example: can use the route command, add a workstation to a network, or mount a remote filesystem.
- Ability to write functional scripts in an administrative language (shell, Perl, Tk).
- Some programming experience in an applicable language like C.
- Administer a small site alone, or assist in the administration of a larger site.
- Work under the general supervision of a more senior system administrator or computer systems manager.
- Perform normal security procedures, able to advise users on standard security protocol.
Intermediate/Advanced System Administrator
- Has strong inter-personal and communication skills: capable of training users in complex topics, making presentations to internal groups. Able to write intricate system and user documentation. Capable of writing and explaining purchase justifications.
- Independent problem solving; self-directed, self-starting.
- Very comfortable with most aspects of the Unix operating system: paging/swapping, inter-process communication, devices and device driver fundamentals, file system concepts like inode and superblock.
- Familiar with fundamental networking/distributed computing environments and concepts. Can configure NFS and NIS, use nslookup or research to check information in the DNS.
- Ability to write detailed scripts in at least one, preferably two administrative lnaguages, (shell scripts, Perl, Tk).
- Ability to perform at least minimal debugging and modification of C programs.
- Ability to perform most security audits, and protect the system against intrusion.
- Three to five years of system administration experience.
- At least a BS in Computer Science or a related field.
- Significant programming background in any applicable language.
- Receive general instructions for new duties from supervisor.
- Administers a mid-size site alone, or assists in administration of a larger site.
- Initiates some new responsibilities and helps plan for the future of the site and network.
- Manages novice system administrators or operators.
- Evaluates and/or recommends purchases; has strong influence on the purchasing process.
- Serves as the first line of defense against intrusion and inadvertent system damage.
Senior System Administrator:
- Strong inter-personal and communication skills; capable of writing proposals and papers, acting as a vendor liaison, making presentations to customer/client audiences or making professional presentations, work closely with upper management.
- Ability to solve problems quickly and completely.
- Ability to identify tasks which should be automated and then write tools to automate them.
- Solid understanding of the Unix based operations system: understands paging and swapping, interprocess communication, devices and device drivers, can perform system analysis and tuning.
- Ability to program in at least one, preferably two administrative languages, (shell, Perl, Tk) and port C programs from one platform to another, write small C programs.
- Solid understanding of networking/distributed computing environments, understanding the principals of routing, client/server programming, and the design of consistent network-wide filesystems.
- More than 5 years of previous system administration experience.
- A degree in CS or a related field. Advanced degree preferred.
- Extensive programming experience in an applicable language.
- Publications within the field of system administration.
- Design/implement complex local and wide-area networks of machines.
- Manages a large site or network.
- Works under general direction of senior management.
- Establishes/recommends policies and procedures for system use and services.
- Provides the technical lead and/or supervision for system administrators, system programmers, or others.
- Has purchasing authority and responsibility for purchase justification.
Finally, some important thoughts for system Administrators:
- Never do something you can't undo.
- Always check the backups, never assume they are working. Make sure you can restore from them, too.
- Write down what you did, even if you know you will never forget it, you will.
- If you do it more than once, write a script.
- Get to know your users before there is a problem, then when there is, they will know who you are and maybe have a little understanding.
- Remember you are performing a service for your users, you don't own the system, you just get to play with it.
- Check your backups.
- Never stop learning, there is always something you should know to make your job easier and your system more stable and secure.
- Check your backups, again.
April 7, 2010 | Enterprise Networking Planet
What happened to the old "sysadmin" of just a few years ago? We've split what used to be the sysadmin into application teams, server teams, storage teams, and network teams. There were often at least a few people, the holders of knowledge, who knew how everything worked, and I mean everything. Every application, every piece of network gear, and how every server was configured -- these people could save a business in times of disaster.
Now look at what we've done. Knowledge is so decentralized we must invent new roles to act as liaisons between all the IT groups. Architects now hold much of the high-level "how it works" knowledge, but without knowing how any one piece actually does work. In organizations with more than a few hundred IT staff and developers, it becomes nearly impossible for one person to do and know everything. This movement toward specializing in individual areas seems almost natural. That, however, does not provide a free ticket for people to turn a blind eye.
You know the story: Company installs new application, nobody understands it yet, so an expert is hired. Often, the person with a certification in using the new application only really knows how to run that application. Perhaps they aren't interested in learning anything else, because their skill is in high demand right now. And besides, everything else in the infrastructure is run by people who specialize in those elements. Everything is taken care of.
Except, how do these teams communicate when changes need to take place? Are the storage administrators teaching the Windows administrators about storage multi-pathing; or worse logging in and setting it up because it's faster for the storage gurus to do it themselves? A fundamental level of knowledge is often lacking, which makes it very difficult for teams to brainstorm about new ways evolve IT services. The business environment has made it OK for IT staffers to specialize and only learn one thing.
If you hire someone certified in the application, operating system, or network vendor you use, that is precisely what you get. Certifications may be a nice filter to quickly identify who has direct knowledge in the area you're hiring for, but often they indicate specialization or compensation for lack of experience.
Does your IT department function as a unit? Even 20-person IT shops have turf wars, so the answer is very likely, "no." As teams are split into more and more distinct operating units, grouping occurs. One IT budget gets split between all these groups. Often each group will have a manager who pitches his needs to upper management in hopes they will realize how important the team is.
The "us vs. them" mentality manifests itself at all levels, and it's reinforced by management having to define each team's worth in the form of a budget. One strategy is to illustrate a doomsday scenario. If you paint a bleak enough picture, you may get more funding. Only if you are careful enough to illustrate the failings are due to lack of capital resources, not management or people. A manager of another group may explain that they are not receiving the correct level of service, so they need to duplicate the efforts of another group and just implement something themselves. On and on, the arguments continue.
Most often, I've seen competition between server groups result in horribly inefficient uses of hardware. For example, what happens in your organization when one team needs more server hardware? Assume that another team has five unused servers sitting in a blade chassis. Does the answer change? No, it does not. Even in test environments, sharing doesn't often happen between IT groups.
With virtualization, some aspects of resource competition get better and some remain the same. When first implemented, most groups will be running their own type of virtualization for their platform. The next step, I've most often seen, is for test servers to get virtualized. If a new group is formed to manage the virtualization infrastructure, virtual machines can be allocated to various application and server teams from a central pool and everyone is now sharing. Or, they begin sharing and then demand their own physical hardware to be isolated from others' resource hungry utilization. This is nonetheless a step in the right direction. Auto migration and guaranteed resource policies can go a long way toward making shared infrastructure, even between competing groups, a viable option.
The most damaging side effect of splitting into too many distinct IT groups is the reinforcement of an "us versus them" mentality. Aside from the notion that specialization creates a lack of knowledge, blamestorming is what this article is really about. When a project is delayed, it is all too easy to blame another group. The SAN people didn't allocate storage on time, so another team was delayed. That is the timeline of the project, so all work halted until that hiccup was restored. Having someone else to blame when things get delayed makes it all too easy to simply stop working for a while.
More related to the initial points at the beginning of this article, perhaps, is the blamestorm that happens after a system outage.
Say an ERP system becomes unresponsive a few times throughout the day. The application team says it's just slowing down, and they don't know why. The network team says everything is fine. The server team says the application is "blocking on IO," which means it's a SAN issue. The SAN team say there is nothing wrong, and other applications on the same devices are fine. You've ran through nearly every team, but without an answer still. The SAN people don't have access to the application servers to help diagnose the problem. The server team doesn't even know how the application runs.
See the problem? Specialized teams are distinct and by nature adversarial. Specialized staffers often relegate themselves into a niche knowing that as long as they continue working at large enough companies, "someone else" will take care of all the other pieces.
I unfortunately don't have an answer to this problem. Maybe rotating employees between departments will help. They gain knowledge and also get to know other people, which should lessen the propensity to view them as outsiders
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