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Life in the Trenches: a Sysadmin Speaks

michael posted more than 11 years ago | from the they-can-speak? dept.

News 219

Anonymous Coward writes "A senior systems administrator at a big ISP in Australia offers a no-nonsense view about his line of work, the pros and the cons, ths ups and the downs."

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FP (-1, Offtopic)

chamenos (541447) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993444)

suck my big FP bitch!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! BUSH STILL ON VACATION (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993508)

... and he's given a whole new block of vacation months with the new year

Re:HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! BUSH STILL ON VACATION (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993715)

He's been on vacation since he took office. The man thinks the presidency's all about blowing the budget on his buddies in the weapons manufacturing and oil industries.

Pros and Cons (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993449)

Pros: Cheese Doodles
Cons: Users

i would rather be a sysadmin... (1)

stonebeat.org (562495) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993452)

then be a system.... As heard on simpsons: "I maybe a hobo, but you are a nobo..."

Re:i would rather be a sysadmin... (2)

stonebeat.org (562495) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993470)

oh i forgot to mention, in my last post:....

Being a dedicated sys admin is like being a hobo, and thus the saying: "I maybe a hobo (sys admin), but you are a nobo (users)..."

i bet it sucks (-1, Offtopic)

exspecto (513607) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993462)

getting dingoes in your servers.

in SOVIET RUSSIA (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993473)

Dingo sticks in YOU!

I've heard that Fosters... (-1, Offtopic)

mraymer (516227) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993463)

...is Australian for beer. Actually, I've also heard that the Fosters in Australia isn't very good. But anyway, back on topic here... Someone needs to ask this guy... is there an Australian equivalent to, say, Water Joe or Bawls, for those late night hacking sessions? ;)

Re:I've heard that Fosters... (0)

exspecto (513607) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993484)

Fosters is made in Canada [beeradvocate.com]

Re:I've heard that Fosters... (2)

FrenZon (65408) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993486)

(This are a Melbournian's answer to your questions) No-one in Australia actually drinks Fosters, it's impossible to get in Pubs (where Tooheys or Carlton/Victoria Bitter generally own most of the pubs), and tastes crap. We're well aware that it's one of our most successful exports, however (even if it does taste like crap). V, Red Bull or Coffee suffice as drinks to keep you up at night. Melbourne city has at least four cafes and three 7-11s per square meter, so it's anything you want, really.

Re:I've heard that Fosters... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993580)

An interesting fact that not many people know is that, while Fosters's may not be drunk by Aussies, Crown Larger is, and it is that which is exported successfully to the world as Fosters.

Carlton and United certainly weren't after the Australian tourists when they started selling overseas.

late night hacking sessions? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993492)

he's a sys admin, not a coder.
RTFA

problem solving skills? (4, Insightful)

stonebeat.org (562495) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993465)

I didn't see the "problem solving skills" as a requirement for being a sys admin, mentioned anywhere in the article.

I think problem solving skill are a must for the sys admin job, especially if you don't want to be a Jr. Sys Admin and perform backups all your life.

I worked for a relatively large institution, in the capacity of a Sys Admin, and I know for a fact that you need some serious problem solving skills.

Re:problem solving skills? (3, Funny)

SN74S181 (581549) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993481)

What sorts of problems? Like knowing where the fucking toner cartridges are stored?

Admins are the janitors of IT. If they're lucky they're allowed to write a few perl scripts and run them in a 'production' setting. If they're unlucky, the best they are allowed is to push around little users for power trips. Kinda like the janitor and his floor sweeper. You'd better get out of the way when he goes through with that floor sweeper at 7PM each night...

Re:problem solving skills? (1)

geniusj (140174) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993578)

Were you or your family terrorized by a vicious gang of sysadmins any time in your history? Just curious.

Re:problem solving skills? (2)

woogieoogieboogie (598162) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993929)

If they're unlucky, the best they are allowed is to push around little users for power trips

It's especially rewarding when the little user you are pushing around is a programmer.

Re:problem solving skills? (5, Funny)

bitflip (49188) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993704)

I don't see "hands" as a requirement for being a sys admin, mentioned anywhere in the article.

I think hands are a must for the sys admin job, especially if you don't want to be a Jr. Sys Admin and perform backups (with your teeth!) all your life.

I worked for a relatively large institution, in the capacity of a Sys Admin, and I know for a fact that you need some serious hands.

Re:problem solving skills? (5, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993724)

I agree. I think problem solving skills, and the ability to learn and adapt are really the two things that make a good technology admin (system or network). If you have those skills, which are almost impossable to measure in test form, you really have all you need. All the technology knowledge and such can be gained later.

I know that I personally would much rather work with someone who was an ace problem solver and a quick learner, but who had little technology knowledge, than someone who had memorised every certification book, but was unable to apply that knowledge to real-world problems.

Re:problem solving skills? (1)

ContemporaryInsanity (583611) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993747)

5 - Insightful ?!? -1 Troll. Are 'problem solving skills' not *obviously* implied by the following ??? * Aptitude. * Ability to learn and understand complex subjects quickly. * Ability to hold a mental model of How Things Work. * Caution and knowing how to make changes in a way that you can quickly and easily undo if you need to i.e. revision management skills. * Communications skills - you need to not only know something, you need to be able to explain it to others in plain English so that reasonably intelligent non-experts can understand it.

what article did you read? (2)

twitter (104583) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993888)

The article I read said,

I think that having a good understanding of how something works is far more valuable than having a specific rote procedure to follow. If you understand it, you can deal with situations that haven't been pre-scripted i.e. you can deal with unplanned emergencies. If all you know is a set of rote procedures then you're in serious trouble when something crops up for which you don't have a set procedure.

As another poster mentioned here, his number one quality for the job is aptitude. If that's not problem solving, I'm not sure what is. So it seems that you and the article agree, except that the author expects his juniors to get it and would not keep them around long if they did not.

Important for choosing YOUR future IT job (4, Insightful)

CharonX (522492) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993467)

Good read - I think its important to recieve an impression on what your future jobs might turn into once you have been on the line for a couple of years.
Of course, its important to try your dreamsjobs during during university, but you never know if your dream wont turn into a nightmare after a few years but just working a few weeks there...

Re:Important for choosing YOUR future IT job (1)

octaene (171858) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993491)

I liked this article. In fact, I'm going to hand it to my managers as quickly as possible! I'll bet many of you /.'ers have to deal with management who doesn't understand [our] role in the company and/or the technical issues...

Sometimes you have to make your own dream job by forging ahead and molding the management team around you by helping them understand your team.

Hire any CNN journalists lately? (0, Flamebait)

MortisUmbra (569191) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993474)

Oh good God, I expect this kind of over dramatization from the popular press, but if /. starts it to.... "a sysadmin speaks"? wtf????

Re:Hire any CNN journalists lately? (2, Insightful)

SoSueMe (263478) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993602)

I suppose it could seem like an "over dramatization" if you haven't been in the job or haven't been in the job long.
While reading the article, I found I was agreeing with almost everything written except, maybe, the MBTI bit.
The part I liked most was one of the last comments about knowing you've done a good job when nobody knows you you did anything at all.

I spent a weekend replacing the HDs in two Banyan servers (upgrading five 1.2 gig drives in each, with 9.1s in a RAID 5 array) then restoring and testing all services and data.
I walked in Monday morning and asked the users if everything was OK.
They said "everything's fine, why?"
"No reason." I said and walked away with a smile.

Like the admin in the interview, I also had a piece of furniture give way from underneath a server but I was in the room at the time and was able to stop its rapid decent to oblivion and eased it to the floor. It stayed on the floor until we got a proper rack unit.

So, there is "drama" but, I wouldn't call what was written an "over dramatization".

Re:Hire any CNN journalists lately? (1)

MortisUmbra (569191) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993921)

Oh no, I understand the ARTICLE just fine. All too well as a matter of fact, just the other day I spent the better part of the weekend finishing our XP rollout, to the shipping system and the accounting system, how fun was that? Both of them using pretty old software with poor installation methods in a goofball setup. Then I got to revamp the entire inventory program (basicly re-wrote it from scratch) so I know the feeling. My point, which is flambait if the losers want to call it that, was that "Life in the trenches: A sysadmin speaks" is more than just a little overdramatized. Is our job complicaed? Yeah, is it sometimes very thankless? Yeah. Is it THAT bad....hell no....you want life in the trenches go become a cop, or a fireman, for example. Talk about hard, frustrating (no matter hwo hard you work there will always be crime) and thankless, and usually pays worse too.

I'm just saying maybe the author needs to step back, calm done, and find a better title....

And he said... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993478)

..."I'm sorry, does my smell offend?"

Re:And he said... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993490)

There's a reason why he was interviewed by email.

Crap... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993480)

This guy basically has the "bastard operator from hell" mentality, he's just a little more polite about it.

Any sysadmin that has to log into a system while on holiday in *India* is a bad one. If you don't have enough redundancy built into your system that your junior admins/engineers can't hold down the fort for a week or two, something is wrong.

Second, "strong experienced based opinions" is crap. Open your eyes to new concepts and ideas. Like me trying to explain to two 10+ year network engineers that having a flat, layer 2 network across an entire Air Force base with 8000 users is a Bad Idea, and that adding layer 3 switching capability at the distribution points wouldn't slow down the network, and it would, in fact, be faster. Sure, hold on to your opinions, but understand things change, and if you don't change with them, you're a gorram dinosaur.

Re:Crap... (5, Interesting)

rde (17364) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993500)

You're being a little harsh, methinks. For a start, he didn't say he was logging in to fix anything; he may just have been keeping an eye on the system. Irrespective of the number of minions one has, this can only be a good thing.
Having said that, logging in from a cyber cafe? Speaking as a former sysadmin of one of those self-same cafes, this made me shudder. Even if he's using something secure, I've often found keystroke loggers on machines (amongst other stuff), and he's risking some serious compromising.

"strong experienced based opinions" is crap
That's your strong, experience-based opinion, is it?

Re:Crap... (4, Insightful)

Corgha (60478) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993834)

I've often found keystroke loggers on machines (amongst other stuff), and he's risking some serious compromising.

Good point, and always one worth keeping in mind. It's always good to treat systems and networks like bags at the airport (have they been under your control since the time they were packed?). However, perhaps he was using:

1) his laptop, or

2) OPIE, S/Key, or some other one-time-password solution (and checking the SSH key of the remote end).

Re:Crap... (5, Funny)

portwojc (201398) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993511)

> Any sysadmin that has to log into a system while on holiday in *India* is a bad one

I wouldn't say that. He probably missed the machines...

Better than no experience (4, Insightful)

mgkimsal2 (200677) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993534)

Second, "strong experienced based opinions" is crap.

It's better than just 'strong opinions'. Anyone logical enough to realize that you should normally have opinions based on experiences is normally logical enough to be reasoned with regarding how those experiences may differ from other experiences, and how 'new' approaches may in fact be better.

In your Air Force situation, it sounds like the people you were dealing with had had little or no experience with the type of topology you were recommending.

Re:Crap... (1)

CaptainBaz (621098) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993536)

Not necessarily. I'd say that he has an appropriate level of paranoia for the job if he's logging in whilst on holiday - to spy on lusers^W^W^Wcheck up on things.

Re:Crap... - too true (2, Insightful)

MarkMac (13774) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993619)

> This guy basically has the "bastard operator from
> hell" mentality, he's just a little more polite about it.

Too true and still an unfortunate stereotype of all too many self-annointed sysadmins, or at least those who can get away with this attitude. Unfortunately, many inexperienced management types still think that this is acceptable behavior - but that is changing.

He sounds like he works at a relatively small and fairly autonomous site without too much interaction with other groups/departments using the systems on a day-to-day basis. His management also doesn't appear to know what is going on - but it probably doesn't matter and they don't care given the circumstances of this particular site.

Any one involved in system admininstration or interested in this type of job should consider the recent book "The Practice of System and Network Administration" (by Thomas A. Limoncelli and Christine Hogan) a must read. This is a far more realistic description of contemporary practices in system administration than the comments made in this article.

Re:Crap... (1)

spanky1 (635767) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993651)

I can see your point but somewhat disagree. I have seen wishy-washy sysadmins who do not have strong opinions. It does not inspire confidence. I think strong experience-based opinions are very important. But you *also* need to be open minded to other possibilities and give them fair consideration. I don't see that as being a conflict. Cuz that's the way I am (as a network admin).

The BOFH (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993720)

I agree entirely.

I've found that working with people that have "strong experienced based opinions" is a painful experience. These are generally geeky people that complain every time management asks them to do anything other than install the latest version of the OS.

That type of person is a pain to manage and even worse to work with. You need to realize that management is there for a reason, to direct the company. You are there to FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS, not spout back on how things should be done because you are an "experienced expert".

Being competent keeps you from getting fired, but that attitude keeps you from getting anywhere in the company (and makes management WISH they could fire you).

Re:The BOFH (3, Insightful)

woogieoogieboogie (598162) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994045)

A sysadmin is a part of company management and any company who makes decisions and orders their sysadmin to follow those orders is assured of having a pretty fscked network and a huge waste of company resources. A manager is not a person who manages people, a manager manages company resources and in the case of the admin, it is usually the resources IT infrastructure. A good sysadmin can save his/her company huge sums of money. As the article pointed out, the pinheads determine the requirements of the company and the budget, the sysadmin should determine the best implementation. The only reason the pinheads try and order the sysadmin is because they do not understand the technology and by ordering the sysadmin to implement their decision, the pinheads can attempt to demonstrate superiority in an area they are clearly inferior at.

I kinda feel sorry for any company which lets unknowlegdable people make decisions for the experts to implement.

Re:Crap... (5, Insightful)

renehollan (138013) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993949)

Second, "strong experienced based opinions" is crap

I take exception to this. After all, that is supposed to be the basis of "experience" for which it is worth paying a premium. Maybe they don't pay for experience anymore, though (sure looks that way sometimes).

Yes, things change, and in this industry at a sometimes-painful rate. However, a good problem solver (and a SysAdmin better be one when "strange, impossible" things happen) should be able to look at a problem or requirement, weigh the available options, and choose the best one.

While the options available may change, when the problem or requirement falls into a catagory that is not materially affected by new technology, experience is gold. This does not meen that conventional wisdom shouldn't be challenged when a better idea seams appropriate (and, if it isn't, it should be possible to show why), but it shouldn't be totally ignored either. The good SysAdmin will choose wisely.

From a developer's perspective, I have encountered SysAdmin "control freaks" that got in the way of me doing my job (as in, "I don't care if the product your department is developing is Linux-based, you must run Windows," where the real issue was integration with LAN-resources). I have also encountered those who did things differently than I would, but with damn good reason, usually because any perceived extra "bang" I might get would not justify the complexity "buck" he or she would have to face, and add overhead overall.

The best SysAdmins provide a service, make sure it is available, support it, and will bend somewhat to accomodate slightly different or unusual needs, with commensurately less support (i.e. "yes, you can connect that Linux box to the 'net, just don't do ...., and don't expect support beyond IP assignment, NFS filesystem exports, server identifications (DNS, NTP, etc.)).

Aptitude!? (2, Interesting)

HelbaSluice (634789) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993501)

What qualities do you rate as essential for a good sysadmin?

In rough order of importance:

Aptitude.
...


Is it just me, or is that a somewhat circular choice for first on the list? What IS aptitude, but the qualities essential for the purpose?

Re:Aptitude!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993537)

yeah aptitude sucks,
I just use apt-cache search, and then apt-get...

Re:Aptitude!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993591)

He uses Debian. He contributes to Debian. A[dvanced]P[ackage]T[ool] comes to mind. Using Debian so much, that word stays in the mind.

A slashdot user speaks (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993503)

slashdot sucks !
booyaah !

to be a stock markup FraUD billyunheir? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993522)

you just knead to know what banner ADs to run MoSt. right? or wrong.

Spot On (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993531)

Having been in the IT field for 10 years, of which I've been a UNIX sysadmin for about 5, I must say this is one of the better articles/interviews I've read on the subject (not that I've seen that many). Not to over emphasize the importance of the job, or to inflate my own ego, but in all honesty I believe the job of the system administrator in IT to be one of the most important, if not the most important. System administrators must design, implement, and maintain computer systems. This is obviously one gigantic chunk of what makes up the information technology field as a whole.

It has often been my experience that the sysadmin(s) for an organization is/are the best informed resources from an IT perspective (at least if you're a good one). Who else do you talk to when needing to discuss any significant change to an organization's computing infrastructure?

To the person who commented that there was no mention of good troubleshooting skills as qualification for a good sysadmin....I believe that fell under the comment that a component of the sysadmin's job was to keep the systems running. To be able to troubleshoot and solve problems is a prerequisite to keeping systems running.

I'd only disagree to the extent that. . . (5, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993675)

troubleshooting often has nothing whatsover to do with the system at all.

The primary difference between a really good admin and a BOFH is the realization that "lusers" are *part of the system.* A really, *really* good admin has to be that apparently rarest of geeks, the person with outrageously good technical *and* people skills.

After all, the admin isn't just responsible for the machines, he is also the primary interface between the machines and the people.

How do you know if your company has a really talented admin? If he kills all of a user's processes and deletes all of his files, and the user is so greatful the treats the admin to lunch.

Now *that* is evidence of an admin who has figured out what his job is and how to do it. Which is, unfortunately, rare.

KFG

Re:I'd only disagree to the extent that. . . (3, Insightful)

mikeage (119105) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993863)

Tact is the art of telling someone to go to hell, and having them look forward to the trip.

Re:I'd only disagree to the extent that. . . (2, Interesting)

sonamchauhan (587356) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994002)

> After all, the admin isn't just responsible for the machines, he is also the primary interface
> between the machines and the people.

In larger installations users usually don't contact sysadmins directly. Instead, they call a "helpdesk" person who uses uses tools (mostly written by the sysadmins) to fix routine issues. Unresolvable issues are escalated upto the sysadmin.

It's usually like this with ISPs (where the sysadmin mentioned in this article works). Users (i.e. subscribers) calling about technical issues usually speak to a tech-support/helpdesk person; and not a system administator.

Situations where "userness" is. . . (2, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994043)

hired out are a special case. Certainly an ISP is the most obvious example, and one where the indirection is so great most users don't even realize they're users.

I'd only point out that help desk people are themselves users of the system, and generally rank only a smidgeon above subscribers on the "luse-O-meter."

My point stands.

KFG

Re:I'd only disagree to the extent that. . . (1)

Technik~ (87292) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994208)

<shameless-self-promotion> I wrote this a couple of years ago while working in a small shop (350 users, complex environment)... Editorial: The Egoless Admin [freshmeat.net] .</shameless-self-promotion>

I still agree with it. Your job is that of architect, carpenter, plumber, electrician, handyman and, finally, janitor.

Now, in a much larger shop (tens of thousands of users, hugely complex environment), I'm learning and relearning the lessons and seeing again that the more thought you put into the first four jobs the less you put into the last two. That, and that very few- including most other techs- really understand good system design. You better be opinionated and you better be right most of the time or everything will end up a mess.

Admin flamebait... (4, Insightful)

mccalli (323026) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993728)

in all honesty I believe the job of the system administrator in IT to be one of the most important, if not the most important. System administrators must design, implement, and maintain computer systems.

Why did you buy the computer? To run programs. And so step forward the programmer...

Why did the programmer write the program? Because it performed the task needed. And so step forward the analyst...

Who needed the task performed? And so step forward the end-user...

I've always thought Syadmins to have an over-inflated importance in the world. As I show above, I put them third or fourth in the pecking order (depending on whether the end-user and the analyst are not the same people). Many admins forget that the point isn't to have lots of wonderfully run locked-down computers that don't do anything (damned users! get in the way of my policies...). A computer is a tool - a beautifully polished tool that doesn't do anything is worthless.

Cheers,
Ian

Re:Admin flamebait... (5, Insightful)

MKalus (72765) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993908)

>>I've always thought Syadmins to have an over-inflated importance in the world. [...] Many admins forget that the point isn't to have lots of wonderfully run locked-down computers that don't do anything (damned users! get in the way of my policies...). A computer is a tool - a beautifully polished tool that doesn't do anything is worthless.

Granted the job of a Sysadmin is to keep the machines running so that the user can do their job, but to say they are "unimportant" is absolutly stupid.

The job is more like a janitor, you "own" the house, you make sure that everything is clean, that the kids are not running in then hallways and that the bathrooms are clean.

Having said that, that also means that I am going to restrict of what a user can and cannot do, in order to make the system work for EVERYBODY.

The problem is mostly not the endusers, they are EASY to deal with, the problem in my own experience are all those wonderful programmers who think because they can write some code they should have all the rights, all the power and oh yeah, root because "Well, the program can only do what it is supposed to do when it is run as root." Right, permissions are for wimps.

I never had a real problem with an enduser that couldn't be solved after some facetime, on the other hand I had Programmers who activly tried to root production boxes because they NEEDED to testrun a program that had failed on the dev AND test box (he later claimed they were broken, yeah right), never heard of permissions, it sometimes amazes me how little of an understanding programmers have about System Architecture and security.

Sorry, but face it, if you ARE on my System *I* am the one who tells you what you can do and can't do. I AM the cop on that system and if you don't behave I make sure you can't do much damage.

Sounds "God like"? No, I never kill processes without first knowing what they are doing or why unless they jepardize the system.

Oh, and for the guy who tried to root the box: He got a warning from the manager and I am sure he thinks about me the same way you think about Sysadmins.

M.

Re:Admin flamebait... (2, Insightful)

mccalli (323026) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993944)

Granted the job of a Sysadmin is to keep the machines running so that the user can do their job, but to say they are "unimportant" is absolutly stupid

I didn't. I said I rated them fourth in importance, behind the user, the analyst and the developer.

I had Programmers who activly tried to root production boxes

The more technically accurate term for these people is 'cretins'. You have cretins in all jobs and all walks of life.

Sorry, but face it, if you ARE on my System...

And here we run into the over-inflated opinion problem again. I am not on your system. I am on the end-user's system. You are to help me do whatever the end-user requires.

Cheers,
Ian

Re:Admin flamebait... (3, Insightful)

silas_moeckel (234313) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994012)

Hrm it sounds like your complaining about the fact that the system is owned by the COMPANY admins are there to keep those systems well fed and cared for generaly along with implementing new features and systems performing upgrades etc. Programmers if things are done right NEVER touch the production system unless things have gone terribly wrong, granted they should have read only rights to anything that pertains to there sphere but I say read only on the honor system untill things prove otherwise. Now why do I say this because my #1 problem with programmers is documentation and training if the programmer needs to do the install or the upgrade then there product isn't finished sys admins do installs and upgrades and support the system Teir 2 support is generaly inside the sys admin land with tier 3 with the programmer that currently owns that product. Now I may have a biased view I have worked as a programmer and a sys admin and have managed each of the fields and lets sum up the generalaties as I see them:

Programmers

Allways think the hardware or system is broken and they can fix it aka I'm a better sys admin than the sys admin syndrome.

Need superuser privlages on any machine they touch including there own aka I am god you can not be god because I am the one and only god because I can program.

Allways think the best way to increase application performance besides easy things is to make the system faster aka ROI be damned it's just easy to spend more to make it work.

Sys admins

The machine is my responcibility thus the machine is mine all mine it's my sandbox and nobody else can play with it unless they ask realy nicly aka king of the hill.

Nobody else knows all the little things that I have done to make the system work aka undocumented bailing wire and bubblegum.

Users are stupid why because they ask me questions that I allready know aka if your not an admin you are dirt.

Now either side has there issues but guess what all that realy matters is that the system stay up for most companies it dosent matter that you make 3 times the salerie of the average users when they are affected by your bad programming or inability to trend and premtivly fix issues the users suffer. Admins deserve there sandbox to a point as they are the ones who get canned if things go realy bad. Programmers need the rights that they request sometimes so then can get there work done more expidiciously.

BTW yes my spelling and grammer is horid so dont complain. If you dont agree with my oppinions thats fine to they are mine and not nessicarly anybody elses.

Re:Admin flamebait... (2)

mccalli (323026) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994025)

Hrm it sounds like your complaining about the fact that the system is owned by the COMPANY admins

It is not owned by the company admins. It is owned by the company. Admins are just people doing a job which the company requires.

We agree on most of the rest of the post.

Cheers,
Ian

Re:Admin flamebait... (1)

1lus10n (586635) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993964)

and so step forth the admin. the number one guy when it comes to the network has a whole.

what good is a friggin program if you can only access it half the time ? what good is a system or network if they are only "up" half the time ?

nothing !

and whos job is it to keep that stuff running ? the admins.

Sysadmin Context: IT vs. Entire Organization (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993980)

Why did you buy the computer? To run programs. And so step forward the programmer...

Of course programmers/analysts are another component of IT. Unfortunately, many programmers typically are only aware of the programming language they are using and the business requirements they are attempting to fulfill. Most are spotty in terms of their overall computing knowledge. We are, after all, talking about , and I stress this, information technology, and not business requirements. Many programmers I've encoutered have a weak overall knowledge of information technology. I guess I say this as I was a developer and DBA for the first 5 years of my involvement in IT, and I definitely see a vast difference between the typical programmer and the typical sysadmin. You often see a sysadmin who also knows how to program in several languages, yet rarely see a programmer how also knows how to design, implement, and maintain systems based around multiple hardware platforms and operating systems.

Who needed the task performed? And so step forward the end-user...

The end-user plays little to no role in information technology. They use the program, programmed by the programmer, running on computing resources designed and maintained by the sysadmin.

Now, I think the difference in our viewpoints is caused by what we are evaluating. I'm evaluating the importance of a sysadmin in the information technology realm. It appears you are evaluating these differing roles in terms of a company as a whole (not just IT). And from the viewpoint you are taking, I agree with you.

Re:Admin flamebait... (1)

Nuttles (625038) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994003)

I agree with you that the system admin isn't the most important position with most companies, but it is a vital link of the chain. I think this link is much of the time underappreciated both because many "users" in general are ignorant of what it means to be a sys admin and also because the sys admins I have known and from what I read about personailities of sys admins...well they tend to lack a lot of people skills. They also tend to have huge egos (possibly because of huge amount of time it takes to learn what they NEED TO KNOW and to actually do it).

Many admins forget that the point isn't to have lots of wonderfully run locked-down computers that don't do anything (damned users! get in the way of my policies...). A computer is a tool - a beautifully polished tool that doesn't do anything is worthless.

I think a lot of USERS forget they aren't the computer specialist and their individual job goal may and often times takes a back seat to the company goals.

A computer is a tool - a beautifully polished tool that doesn't do anything is worthless.

A broken tool doesn't get anything done either

Here ya go, just in case (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993541)

Life in the trenches: a sysadmin speaks
By Sam Varghese
December 27 2002

Craig Sanders: "A sysadmin who doesn't have strong experience-based opinions about how things should be done probably isn't very confident in their own ability to do the job."

As recently a decade ago, a systems administrator wasn't really needed in every medium- or large-sized corporation. There were motley assemblages of computers which were used for this task and that and if one or two broke down, then the supplier came in and fixed them.

But as use of the Internet spread, offices began to be increasingly networked, servers appeared in numbers and men and women were needed on-site to keep these metallic objects - which had slowly assumed tremendous importance as data repositories - going. Uptime became important.

Early on, the men and women - and lots of pimply-faced teenagers - who took on these jobs were considered a breed apart. They weren't exactly flavour of the month - and seemed to return the compliment by sticking to themselves as much as possible.

But as geeks became more and more socially accepted, it came to be known as a cool profession - though most people never knew what these IT folk really did.

Some migrated to this line out of a genuine liking for what they would be doing; as the tech boom gathered momentum, many others with dollar signs in their eyes joined what looked like a never-ending job queue.

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Craig Sanders belongs to the former category. Around the time when IBM put out its first PC, he was already working as a programmer - at 14.

In 1982, he went into a support/sysadmin role and has stayed in that line ever since. Says he: "I guess this job was inevitable for me since I discovered computers at the age of 11. The only job I've ever had that wasn't in the computer industry was a brief stint selling hotdogs outside a pub while I was at university, which lasted until I found a part-time programming job."

From the early 1990s onwards, Sanders began to focus on Unix systems administration almost exclusively. From 1994, his focus has been Linux. He is a developer for the free Linux distribution, Debian.

Sanders currently works at Vicnet, an Internet Service Provider focusing on community groups and libraries. He started as a systems administrator in November 1997, and was promoted to senior systems administrator a year or so later. Most of the Vicnet servers run Debian GNU/Linux; some run Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system, and there are also a few Windows NT servers.

Sanders inspires strong emotions - he is convinced about what he believes in and does not suffer fools gladly. He is forthright in his opinions but is rarely technically challenged on them. He is probably one of the few 35-year-olds in the country who until recently did not have a television set because he hates advertising. He now has one but uses it only to watch the news on the ABC and DVDs.

He was interviewed by email.

What are your fundamental tasks as a sysadmin?

To keep the systems running.
To plan and implement upgrades and new services.
To plan for disaster, minimising the risk and the potential damage, including backups and disaster recovery planning.
To resolve any systems problems that crop up or, better yet, to see the warning signs and head them off before they become a problem.
To keep my skills up-to-date.
To be a knowledge resource for the company.

What qualities do you rate as essential for a good sysadmin?

In rough order of importance:

Aptitude.
Ability to learn and understand complex subjects quickly.
Ability to hold a mental model of How Things Work.
Caution and knowing how to make changes in a way that you can quickly and easily undo if you need to i.e. revision management skills.
Communications skills - you need to not only know something, you need to be able to explain it to others in plain English so that reasonably intelligent non-experts can understand it.

Note that training and formal qualifications aren't on that list. They're useful, but only in addition to the above traits, not as a substitute for them.

Sysadmins are often accused of being control freaks. They are also accused of being vengeful people, who use their technical knowledge to harass users and keep upper management in check. Your comment?

I can understand why some people might feel this way, but I don't agree. There is an inherent tension between maintaining a system's current functionality and developing new functionality. Part of a sysadmin's role is to manage the impact of development projects so that they don't negatively affect the existing systems. This is often interpreted as being adversarial.

A sysadmin has to know not only what can be done but also what cannot (or should not) be done. Sometimes that means stopping people from doing the wrong thing and sometimes it means making sure that they do the right thing. This can annoy people or lead them to believe that they are being deliberately thwarted, but it's really just the sysadmin doing the job they were hired to do.

It's difficult to put it in more general terms than that, because it is highly situational - for most tasks, there are several ways to do it. Some ways are obviously better and anyone can see them; others are not so obvious, it requires a lot of experience to be able to foresee how subtle differences and even subtler interactions between different components can have an enormous impact on the final outcome; and some ways are obviously wrong to an experienced tech but may appear to be right to someone blinded by glossy marketing brochures or a slick sales-pitch for whatever the latest snake-oil buzzword is.

Also, a sysadmin who doesn't have strong experience-based opinions about how things should be done probably isn't very confident in their own ability to do the job... and if they're not confident, why should you be? Sometimes this strength of will and confidence may be interpreted as being a "control freak", especially by people who don't have the background to understand the reasons why a sysadmin has made particular decisions.

Does life as a sysadmin really end after you leave work? Or are you on edge, waiting for your mobile to ring?

The job never really ends, but I'm certainly not on edge. I'm on call 24/7 but if I've done my job right I generally don't have to worry about being called in the middle of the night.

Have you ever been in the position where you had to act as mentor for someone in this line? If so, how did you go about it?

Yes, I have had (and still have) several junior system admins. Part of my job is to train them. I do that by setting an example, setting standards (e.g. of quality) for how things should be done, teaching them how to do something and, most importantly, teaching them how or why it works. Then I gradually give them responsibilty for their own systems or service areas.

I think that having a good understanding of how something works is far more valuable than having a specific rote procedure to follow. If you understand it, you can deal with situations that haven't been pre-scripted i.e. you can deal with unplanned emergencies. If all you know is a set of rote procedures then you're in serious trouble when something crops up for which you don't have a set procedure.

What's been the biggest crisis you've faced as a sysadmin? How did you resolve it?

The worst disaster I can recall was when a rack shelf fell apart (the builder put it together the wrong way) and dropped a few servers on the floor from about two metres high. One of our Web servers died, the disk heads crashed. I had to build a replacement from spare parts and restore the data from backup. It was back up and running the same day, and we only lost a few hours worth of Web server log files.

Do you find that your IT involvement cuts you off from people? Has it affected you in any way?

No, not really. I have noticed that until the Internet became popular in the mid-90s it was social death to admit to any interest in computers, and it was certainly not acceptable to talk about them at parties. That's changed now. It's still considered "geeky" but it's not the unforgivable social crime that it once was. You still have to pretend not to know much about computers, but these days it's so you don't waste the entire party solving someone's computer problems for them.

I think, though, that to be any good at this job you have to have a particular way of thinking and looking at the world. For those who like personality tests, Myers-Briggs personality types INTJ and INTP typically make good systems admins. These personality types are fairly uncommon (less than five percent of the population), and the worldview is moderately alien to most people... so, while there may be some level of "cut off" from other people, the job isn't the cause.

This is not to say you have to be INTJ/INTP to be a good system admin, just that the percentage within sysadmin and related professions is many times higher than the percentage within the general population.

What is your partner's reaction to the line you have chosen (and love)?

The flippant answer is that I solved that problem by training her to be a systems administrator too :-). My partner's response is: "It's good, it keeps him out of my hair while I'm programming". Actually, we both work in the Internet industry. Her skill set is slightly different to mine. She's better at programming and much better at management tasks, whereas I'm better at systems administration and don't have much interest at all in taking on management roles.

How much input would a good sysadmin have into choice of platforms in a company? Or is this solely a matter for management?

Management should set the budget and the overall needs. Systems staff need free reign to implement a solution that meets those needs within the budget.

Otherwise, what you end up with is a system that doesn't work very well because it was designed by people who are not qualified to design it. Managers are skilled at management tasks, they know what the business needs of the company are but, as a general rule, they do not have the knowledge or experience required to make technical decisions.

In my experience, it's an iterative process where management sets the budget and outlines the requirements. The sysadmin does the research and comes back with a list of options that may meet those needs, detailing the pros and cons of each option. A few rounds of this narrows down the options under consideration until only one or two are left. Then a decision is made and implementation planning begins.

How would you go about introducing new technology in a company - stuff which you know will make life easier for both users and admins but which has no support from a management team which views change as disruptive?

As a general rule, it's best to talk about feature sets and not about particular brands of technology. That's a good way to look at it anyway, because a good design is modular and any component should be easily replacable by a similar component that does the same job.

I guess you're asking about Linux and other Open Source software here, so I'll use Linux and Samba as an example: when a need comes up for a new file or print server, don't talk about installing a Linux box, talk about installing a new file or print server. As long as what you implement does the job and works reliably, no one will care how it's done as long as it works.

Otherwise, a generally cautious approach is the best way. Don't introduce sweeping changes, overnight - migrate to them gradually. start with small narrowly-defined services, e.g. take some of the workload off your NT file server by adding a Linux print-server or two (you can do this at effectively no cost by recycling an obsolete desktop machine). or protect your MS Exchange server by hiding it behind a firewall and using Linux and postfix as a safe, anti-spam, virus-scanning email gateway between Exchange and the Internet.

And finally, you need to be able to recognise when it isn't a good idea to change something. even though the new technology may be better, the workflow and routine of your site may be too closely tied to the existing product. No amount of superior technology is going to justify disrupting a routine that works. If you can introduce the new technology without disruption, then do it. Otherwise, don't.

What's your biggest complaint about the profession?

I don't have much to complain about. I like the job, I enjoy the challenges, and I get a real sense of accomplishment from making sure that the systems I'm responsible for work reliably 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The biggest issue would be that often there is no clear distinction between work and non-work hours - it's very easy to work 12 or 15 hours or more per day when you have a difficult or interesting problem to work on.

This is true for the job in general, but telecommuting makes it even more so. OTOH, (on the other hand) telecommuting is one of the major benefits of the job.

And the biggest plus point?

Telecommuting. I can do at least 70 percent of my job from home at any hour of the day or night. With appropriate encryption, it makes no difference whether I am sitting at the console or at my desk at the office or at my desk at home - or anywhere for that matter.

I've logged in to my systems at work while away at conferences and fixed things. I've even logged in from an Internet cafe while on holiday in India, although the lag on that link was too slow to get much done.

Final words?

Systems Administration is the kind of job that nobody notices if you're doing it well. People only take notice of their systems when they're not working, And they tend to forget that a lot of work and expertise goes into making sure that they continue working.

But that's as it should be - computer networks are infrastructure that you should be able to rely on, to take for granted, just like telephones and electricity. If you can't do that, then there's something wrong, something that can and should be fixed.

Thankless Job (5, Insightful)

Tony.Tang (164961) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993544)

Like a lot of us, my family and friends have come to rely on me as the "IT-Guy". I hate this designation because I hate IT stuff. I think this statement from the article sums it up:

Systems Administration is the kind of job that nobody notices if you're doing it well. People only take notice of their systems when they're not working, And they tend to forget that a lot of work and expertise goes into making sure that they continue working.

You only ever talk about IT when things go wrong. In my mind, that's a thankless job. I am SO thankful that there are people that don't mind that... And this guy is a professional through and through:

But that's as it should be - computer networks are infrastructure that you should be able to rely on, to take for granted, just like telephones and electricity. If you can't do that, then there's something wrong, something that can and should be fixed.

I like how he takes responsibility. This is unbelievable. I want him as my IT guy now.

Re:Thankless Job (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993662)

I don't think its thankless. Any more than anything else is thankless.

Keeping stuff working after its built is probably most of the work on this planet.

Re:Thankless Job (2)

caluml (551744) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993665)

Quote I hate IT stuff unquote
Maybe you shouldn't work in IT then. Leave it to those of us who enjoy tinkering, and playing with new technologies.

Re:Thankless Job (2, Insightful)

sbjornda (199447) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993831)

Maybe you shouldn't work in IT then. Leave it to those of us who enjoy tinkering, and playing with new technologies.
You're lucky then. Most SysAdmins in big shops don't get to play with new technologies, since most companies don't adopt new technologies. They wait until they become established technologies. Lots of Microsoft-oriented shops, for example, are still running Windows NT 4 servers, and some still have Windows NT 3.51. There are still Linux boxen running pre-2.0 kernels in production. It's a matter of Total Cost of Ownership and Return On Investment. If someone's paying you to "tinker" and "play" then you are indeed blessed. But not at all typical.

.nosig

Re:Thankless Job (2, Insightful)

Corgha (60478) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993903)

Maybe you shouldn't work in IT then.
seems to me that he was pretty explicit in stating that "family and friends have come to rely on me".

Doesn't sound much like a job in IT to me, or that he has much of a choice about it. What's he supposed to do? Request a transfer to a new family? Tell them to hire a professional IT guy?
Leave it to those of us who enjoy tinkering, and playing with new technologies.
I take it you're volunteering to go over to my mom's house and help her the next time she has a problem? Thanks. She can pay you in comments about how you're not sitting up straight enough or alternate forms of nagging currency. :)

Re:Thankless Job (3, Insightful)

Tony Shepps (333) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993711)

Nobody notices if you're doing it well.

To me that's the biggest problem with being a sysadmin professionally. Old-style, less competent managers don't believe that you're worthwhile because you appear idle while nothing ever seems to actually happen.

Once, a combination of a bad spot on tape and a very unusual ice storm combined to result in three days' worth of data. (This was before the advent of cheap and readily-available RAID.) I was called in to a vice-president's office and read a list of backup strategies that the guy had torn out of a Novell magazine, about half of which applied to the SVR3 we were running.

Thankless job, exactly.

Not thankless when you are in control (5, Insightful)

Morgaine (4316) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993961)

The reason why it's not a thankless job for Craig Sanders is because he is in a worthwhile position within his company, able to control and hence take pride in the running of complete systems, not employed as a mere grease monkey without input yet always blamed when the systems are down.

I think many sysadmins on this forum will find that the following rings a bell. You begin with total control in a startup IT team, decide on and bring into operation all aspects of a solution and keep it all running perfectly for years, with near-zero downtime and great job satisfaction. Then the corporate machine takes over, basically overturns everything you've done and creates an absolute disaster, and despite ignoring utterly all your input, you are to blame since you're the sysadmin. Needless to say, job satisfaction is, let's just say, less. This ring a bell?

Craig Sanders has managed to avoid stage 2 so far. He deserves only praise, in my book.

Don't forget (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993545)

a sysadmin has to be _ethical_. They're in a position to witness alot of people's private information, especially in a place like an ISP - not even Echelon can monitor people online like the sysadmin can.

Re:Don't forget (2, Informative)

dipipanone (570849) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993645)

a sysadmin has to be ethical.

I imagine that's why the System Administrators Guild [sage.org] has a SysAdmin Code of Ethics [usenix.org] .

Hmm. I wonder if BOFH's also have their own code of ethics too?

Sysadmins are different all over (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993551)

I have to agree with some other posters that maybe the over-the-top attitude ("strong experience-based opininos") is a little annoying. Having dealt with my share of jerk-sysadmins over the years, and then rising to Sr. Sysadmin on my own, I don't lord a sh*tty attitude over everybody. I sometimes feel the exception in that regard.

I also fully agree that when you're on vacation, if your underlings can't keep the ship together, you're not doing a very good job.

What he doesn't hit on very well in his preachy missive is the importance of diplomacy. I work in a big enough operation that I don't even deal with the end-customers, we have an application support team for that. This means that (a) the problems are reduced, since I only have to worry about a handful of real "users" who can damage the systems and (b) the problems are greater, because those guys are vastly better at really kicking the legs out from under my boxes! So it's mightily important to always touch base with the application support teams, and keep a continuous stream of communication up. It's easy to lose that, especially in a giant operation, especially when your specialty is copping an attitude.

And finally: Why do so many sysadmins dedicate their lives to looking like freaks? Find a shower, a razor, a comb, and use them, people!

Re:Sysadmins are different all over (1)

CaptainBaz (621098) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993555)

And finally: Why do so many sysadmins dedicate their lives to looking like freaks? Find a shower, a razor, a comb, and use them, people!
It helps keep the lusers away.

Sysadmin personality types (2, Insightful)

rayd75 (258138) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993561)


He's dead-on with his observation that personality type and aptitude are the most important qualities in a sysadmin. I am fighting a battle with a boss who actually thinks you can train someone (anyone) to be a sysadmin. Unfortunately when these people fail miserably I get accused of poor training. Oh well, I can always work for a service provider in my next life.

Re:Sysadmin personality types (2, Insightful)

jasonrfink (193522) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993968)

I have to agree with this. I am the Sr. Sysadmin where I work (and the only one for my region). I had to train someone to do my job while I was out getting a tumor removed. I covered only the most basic tasks: using our (very simple) backup software, adding users etc. and told him "Call Support for anything else ..."

Well, he lapsed in many of his tasks and others he did not do correctly. I feel the training was adequate since I had done it before with someone who has a very different *personality*.

On a side note, I also liked how he disregarded certifications. Most people I have met with these always seem to have an answer looking for a problem instead of spending time actually fixing stuff and making it run better.

Dream Sysadmin Job? (3, Interesting)

Mulletproof (513805) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993613)

What's your biggest complaint about the profession?
I don't have much to complain about

HUH!? I'm gonna go out on a limb here using my expereince and the people I know and say this is the exception and not the norm... Is this guy for real? Every sysadmin professional I know complains about the users, the hours, the pay and their job security. And what's this Telecommuniting BS? 70% of the time he was able to stay at home? Am I missing something here? This does NOT sound like the average Sysadmin Job I've come to know. Most employers are too damn anal for that to occure, even if you could effectively...

Jeez... I must be missing something here... Talk about a raw deal...

Re:Dream Sysadmin Job? (1)

spanky1 (635767) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993649)

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be comfortable complaining about my job in that manner unless the interview was anonymous.

But I think you are right: as a network admin I complain about management, users, etc. And who doesn't complain about pay or job security?

Re:Dream Sysadmin Job? (1)

Mulletproof (513805) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993716)

Very good point. You don't exactly come out and bite the hand that feeds you, I guess.

Yes, you are. (3, Insightful)

FreeLinux (555387) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993723)

Yes, you are missing out. A good sysadmin at a decent company can have a very good life. I have had sysadmin positions with small, medium and very large companies where I telecommuted 90% of the time. In one job I telecommuted 100% of the time for a year, before I felt a bit lonely and started frequenting the coorporate campus for a few hours a week. It's amazing what a difference there is when people can put a face with the voice at the other end of the phone.

I was a good sysadmin and I have greater aspirations than this guy does so, I have moved up and beyond these older jobs but, they were very good jobs while I was there.

You're missing out. The question you must ask is, why? Are you really as good at your job as you think you are? Are you able to relate to management or are you constantly trying to win pissing contests with them? Do the users like you, or do the fear or view you with disdane? Honest answers to these questions are harder to get than you might think. You may want to ask a peer or higher-up engineer type for brutally honest answers to these questions. Engineer types will usually oblige, provided they aren't close friends or subordinates. Once you have these answers, accepting them and working to truely address potential shortcomings could completely turn things around for you. Good luck.

Re:Yes, you are. (1)

Mulletproof (513805) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994022)

Don't get me wrong, I never said I was all that and a bag of chips, but on the whole I just don't see people getting these dream jobs. On that note, the only part I take issue with is the assumption you seem to be making that it couldn't possibly be the employer. "Are you really as good at your job as you think you are? Are you able to relate to management or are you constantly trying to win pissing contests with them? Do the users like you, or do the fear or view you with disdane? Honest answers to these questions are harder to get than you might think" And those are very good questions to ask. But don't overlook the otherside of the coin either.

That's not to say those jobs don't exist either. Apparently you're right-- I am missing out :p

Re:Dream Sysadmin Job? (1)

MrWa (144753) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993813)

Is this guy for real? Every sysadmin professional I know complains about the users, the hours, the pay and their job security.

That's the complaint almost everyone has about their job if they are in the wrong place. This can mean that their workplace is no good, the person just doesn't "fit", or that person isn't really as good as they would like to think.

Re:Dream Sysadmin Job? (1)

Dthoma (593797) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994191)

And what's this Telecommuniting BS? 70% of the time he was able to stay at home? Am I missing something here?
Yes. It's called ssh.

Before the site gets slashdotted.... (-1, Redundant)

Pranjal (624521) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993631)

As recently a decade ago, a systems administrator wasn't really needed in every medium- or large-sized corporation. There were motley assemblages of computers which were used for this task and that and if one or two broke down, then the supplier came in and fixed them.

But as use of the Internet spread, offices began to be increasingly networked, servers appeared in numbers and men and women were needed on-site to keep these metallic objects - which had slowly assumed tremendous importance as data repositories - going. Uptime became important.

Early on, the men and women - and lots of pimply-faced teenagers - who took on these jobs were considered a breed apart. They weren't exactly flavour of the month - and seemed to return the compliment by sticking to themselves as much as possible.

But as geeks became more and more socially accepted, it came to be known as a cool profession - though most people never knew what these IT folk really did.

Some migrated to this line out of a genuine liking for what they would be doing; as the tech boom gathered momentum, many others with dollar signs in their eyes joined what looked like a never-ending job queue.

Craig Sanders belongs to the former category. Around the time when IBM put out its first PC, he was already working as a programmer - at 14.

In 1982, he went into a support/sysadmin role and has stayed in that line ever since. Says he: "I guess this job was inevitable for me since I discovered computers at the age of 11. The only job I've ever had that wasn't in the computer industry was a brief stint selling hotdogs outside a pub while I was at university, which lasted until I found a part-time programming job."

From the early 1990s onwards, Sanders began to focus on Unix systems administration almost exclusively. From 1994, his focus has been Linux. He is a developer for the free Linux distribution, Debian.

Sanders currently works at Vicnet, an Internet Service Provider focusing on community groups and libraries. He started as a systems administrator in November 1997, and was promoted to senior systems administrator a year or so later. Most of the Vicnet servers run Debian GNU/Linux; some run Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system, and there are also a few Windows NT servers.

Sanders inspires strong emotions - he is convinced about what he believes in and does not suffer fools gladly. He is forthright in his opinions but is rarely technically challenged on them. He is probably one of the few 35-year-olds in the country who until recently did not have a television set because he hates advertising. He now has one but uses it only to watch the news on the ABC and DVDs.

He was interviewed by email.

What are your fundamental tasks as a sysadmin?

  • To keep the systems running.
  • To plan and implement upgrades and new services.
  • To plan for disaster, minimising the risk and the potential damage, including backups and disaster recovery planning.
  • To resolve any systems problems that crop up or, better yet, to see the warning signs and head them off before they become a problem.
  • To keep my skills up-to-date.
  • To be a knowledge resource for the company.

What qualities do you rate as essential for a good sysadmin?

In rough order of importance:

  • Aptitude.
  • Ability to learn and understand complex subjects quickly.
  • Ability to hold a mental model of How Things Work.
  • Caution and knowing how to make changes in a way that you can quickly and easily undo if you need to i.e. revision management skills.
  • Communications skills - you need to not only know something, you need to be able to explain it to others in plain English so that reasonably intelligent non-experts can understand it.

Note that training and formal qualifications aren't on that list. They're useful, but only in addition to the above traits, not as a substitute for them.

Sysadmins are often accused of being control freaks. They are also accused of being vengeful people, who use their technical knowledge to harass users and keep upper management in check. Your comment?

I can understand why some people might feel this way, but I don't agree. There is an inherent tension between maintaining a system's current functionality and developing new functionality. Part of a sysadmin's role is to manage the impact of development projects so that they don't negatively affect the existing systems. This is often interpreted as being adversarial.

A sysadmin has to know not only what can be done but also what cannot (or should not) be done. Sometimes that means stopping people from doing the wrong thing and sometimes it means making sure that they do the right thing. This can annoy people or lead them to believe that they are being deliberately thwarted, but it's really just the sysadmin doing the job they were hired to do.

It's difficult to put it in more general terms than that, because it is highly situational - for most tasks, there are several ways to do it. Some ways are obviously better and anyone can see them; others are not so obvious, it requires a lot of experience to be able to foresee how subtle differences and even subtler interactions between different components can have an enormous impact on the final outcome; and some ways are obviously wrong to an experienced tech but may appear to be right to someone blinded by glossy marketing brochures or a slick sales-pitch for whatever the latest snake-oil buzzword is.

Also, a sysadmin who doesn't have strong experience-based opinions about how things should be done probably isn't very confident in their own ability to do the job... and if they're not confident, why should you be? Sometimes this strength of will and confidence may be interpreted as being a "control freak", especially by people who don't have the background to understand the reasons why a sysadmin has made particular decisions.

Does life as a sysadmin really end after you leave work? Or are you on edge, waiting for your mobile to ring?

The job never really ends, but I'm certainly not on edge. I'm on call 24/7 but if I've done my job right I generally don't have to worry about being called in the middle of the night.

Have you ever been in the position where you had to act as mentor for someone in this line? If so, how did you go about it?

Yes, I have had (and still have) several junior system admins. Part of my job is to train them. I do that by setting an example, setting standards (e.g. of quality) for how things should be done, teaching them how to do something and, most importantly, teaching them how or why it works. Then I gradually give them responsibilty for their own systems or service areas.

I think that having a good understanding of how something works is far more valuable than having a specific rote procedure to follow. If you understand it, you can deal with situations that haven't been pre-scripted i.e. you can deal with unplanned emergencies. If all you know is a set of rote procedures then you're in serious trouble when something crops up for which you don't have a set procedure.

What's been the biggest crisis you've faced as a sysadmin? How did you resolve it?

The worst disaster I can recall was when a rack shelf fell apart (the builder put it together the wrong way) and dropped a few servers on the floor from about two metres high. One of our Web servers died, the disk heads crashed. I had to build a replacement from spare parts and restore the data from backup. It was back up and running the same day, and we only lost a few hours worth of Web server log files.

Do you find that your IT involvement cuts you off from people? Has it affected you in any way?

No, not really. I have noticed that until the Internet became popular in the mid-90s it was social death to admit to any interest in computers, and it was certainly not acceptable to talk about them at parties. That's changed now. It's still considered "geeky" but it's not the unforgivable social crime that it once was. You still have to pretend not to know much about computers, but these days it's so you don't waste the entire party solving someone's computer problems for them.

I think, though, that to be any good at this job you have to have a particular way of thinking and looking at the world. For those who like personality tests, Myers-Briggs personality types [personalitypathways.com] INTJ and INTP typically make good systems admins. These personality types are fairly uncommon (less than five percent of the population), and the worldview is moderately alien to most people... so, while there may be some level of "cut off" from other people, the job isn't the cause.

This is not to say you have to be INTJ/INTP to be a good system admin, just that the percentage within sysadmin and related professions is many times higher than the percentage within the general population.

What is your partner's reaction to the line you have chosen (and love)?

The flippant answer is that I solved that problem by training her to be a systems administrator too :-). My partner's response is: "It's good, it keeps him out of my hair while I'm programming". Actually, we both work in the Internet industry. Her skill set is slightly different to mine. She's better at programming and much better at management tasks, whereas I'm better at systems administration and don't have much interest at all in taking on management roles.

How much input would a good sysadmin have into choice of platforms in a company? Or is this solely a matter for management?

Management should set the budget and the overall needs. Systems staff need free reign to implement a solution that meets those needs within the budget.

Otherwise, what you end up with is a system that doesn't work very well because it was designed by people who are not qualified to design it. Managers are skilled at management tasks, they know what the business needs of the company are but, as a general rule, they do not have the knowledge or experience required to make technical decisions.

In my experience, it's an iterative process where management sets the budget and outlines the requirements. The sysadmin does the research and comes back with a list of options that may meet those needs, detailing the pros and cons of each option. A few rounds of this narrows down the options under consideration until only one or two are left. Then a decision is made and implementation planning begins.

How would you go about introducing new technology in a company - stuff which you know will make life easier for both users and admins but which has no support from a management team which views change as disruptive?

As a general rule, it's best to talk about feature sets and not about particular brands of technology. That's a good way to look at it anyway, because a good design is modular and any component should be easily replacable by a similar component that does the same job.

I guess you're asking about Linux and other Open Source software here, so I'll use Linux and Samba as an example: when a need comes up for a new file or print server, don't talk about installing a Linux box, talk about installing a new file or print server. As long as what you implement does the job and works reliably, no one will care how it's done as long as it works.

Otherwise, a generally cautious approach is the best way. Don't introduce sweeping changes, overnight - migrate to them gradually. start with small narrowly-defined services, e.g. take some of the workload off your NT file server by adding a Linux print-server or two (you can do this at effectively no cost by recycling an obsolete desktop machine). or protect your MS Exchange server by hiding it behind a firewall and using Linux and postfix as a safe, anti-spam, virus-scanning email gateway between Exchange and the Internet.

And finally, you need to be able to recognise when it isn't a good idea to change something. even though the new technology may be better, the workflow and routine of your site may be too closely tied to the existing product. No amount of superior technology is going to justify disrupting a routine that works. If you can introduce the new technology without disruption, then do it. Otherwise, don't.

What's your biggest complaint about the profession?

I don't have much to complain about. I like the job, I enjoy the challenges, and I get a real sense of accomplishment from making sure that the systems I'm responsible for work reliably 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The biggest issue would be that often there is no clear distinction between work and non-work hours - it's very easy to work 12 or 15 hours or more per day when you have a difficult or interesting problem to work on.

This is true for the job in general, but telecommuting makes it even more so. OTOH, (on the other hand) telecommuting is one of the major benefits of the job.

And the biggest plus point?

Telecommuting. I can do at least 70 percent of my job from home at any hour of the day or night. With appropriate encryption, it makes no difference whether I am sitting at the console or at my desk at the office or at my desk at home - or anywhere for that matter.

I've logged in to my systems at work while away at conferences and fixed things. I've even logged in from an Internet cafe while on holiday in India, although the lag on that link was too slow to get much done.

Final words?

Systems Administration is the kind of job that nobody notices if you're doing it well. People only take notice of their systems when they're not working, And they tend to forget that a lot of work and expertise goes into making sure that they continue working.

But that's as it should be - computer networks are infrastructure that you should be able to rely on, to take for granted, just like telephones and electricity. If you can't do that, then there's something wrong, something that can and should be fixed.

Heh.. talk about dedication.. (1)

marcushnk (90744) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993677)

He even LOOKS the part...

What's the deal with these Penguinistas?? (1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993687)

Jesus, this guy could be RMS' brother. Or sister, for that matter. Why do these types have no regard for personal hygene or grooming. It's really sad, these are supposedly intelligent people yet they all seem to be incapable of tidying themselves.

Note to future sysadmins:

Get a hair cut.
Dress neatly in clean clothes that are not from the previous decade.
Bathe! Frequently!
And brush your God damned teeth, at least twice a day!!!

what's the deal with you.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993714)

impeccabully dressed payper liesense peddling stock markup ?pr? eyecons? IT would be better to be almost anything besides won of those.

Re:What's the deal with these Penguinistas?? (1)

foolip (588195) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993993)

I feel I must point out that it's actually possible to want to look like this. I know for sure that I would grow an obnoxious beard like that if I could (my beard-growth, at 18, is limited). And the hair... it's coming along fine already.

"sysadmin": a very general term (2, Informative)

ilikehardhouse (579776) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993727)

Personally, I think the role of sysadmin suffers from having so many different facets: supporting people/applications, installing software, adding/removing users, deploying applications/troubleshooting/dealing with security etc.

Because most people can do some of these things, they can end up doing sysadmin work. Does that make someone a sysadmin? I have interviewed for sysadmin roles before and always been amazed at the people who have used an application, or watched and install, and then applied for the sysadmin job. It's not enough.

The problem is, lots of people doing this kind of work without the training and experience (and often, no mentor either - nontechnical boss) give the profession a bad name - hence the whole BOFH subculture.

This link [infrastructures.org] describes some of the issues related to this job that isn't very mature at all ...

cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4993735)

Australia? I thought they were still doing mainframe isp and walkabouts. Who knew that they knew what computers were?

A good article (5, Insightful)

Gunzour (79584) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993737)

I will agree with someone else who posted that this guys comments about personality types are right on. You do not *have* to have a particular personality type to be a good sysadmin, but you need to at least have the self-awareness to know what your personality is and how it affects your job performance.

Of course people on slashdot are always looking for something to disagree with, so a few of you have already lashed out at the "strong experience-based opinions" quote. Experience is the number one most important part of being good at *any* job. If you don't agree, then you probably don't have enough experience.

I'll also say this: You don't have to agree with everything someone says to learn from them. (In fact, if you only listen to people who you are in complete agreement with, you will never learn much of anything.) There are a lot of good points in this article, and even if you are somehow offended by the experience-based opinions remark or something else, you can still gain something from it.

To counter the Slashdot trolls (4, Insightful)

defile (1059) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993797)

Here's a positive comment.

I thought that was an insightful article. System administration is the process of keeping together an organization's information infrastructure. People often find this job to be non-human oriented, but it is in fact completely human oriented. The good sys admin is constantly thinking of, and even torturing themselves over how the users will be affected by anything he/she ever does and how it can make their lives easier.

The really good sys admins will unfortunately be perceived as adversaries because they would rather disagree and cause a political stir than develop a system that they believe is going to harm the users more in a long run.

Most intelligent people can figure this out, and will respect their sys admin's position in the company. The sys admins who stay quiet during meetings when they see the company making a wrong move are the ones who don't care, and IMO better fit the profile of BOfH.

At the heart of the matter, our profession is to increase the quality of life through information technology. Anyone who doesn't see their IT profession this way is in the wrong career.

Re:To counter the Slashdot trolls (1)

pellaeon (547513) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993852)

Oh boy, do I agree with you! If I had mod points I'd mod you up as insightful in a jiffie :-)

Moderators....?

What about the processes? (5, Informative)

sbjornda (199447) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993804)

I would have liked to see the article talk more about the processes SysAdmins should be following. If he's really working for a major service provider then where are his hooks into:
  • Change control?
  • Incident management?
  • Problem management?
  • Change window?
  • Service level negotiations?
  • Capacity management?
  • Security management?

As long as all the SysAdmins seem to be making it up as they go along, we will continue to be marginalized and geek-ified by management. Try on for size:

Heck, even Microsoft [microsoft.com] is trying to get into the picture with its Microsoft Operational Framework, a kind of embrace-and-extend on ITIL, though I don't know of many places that are actually using it.

It's not that the SysAdmin necessarily has to manage these processes - though in a small shop no one else will - but he/she/it needs at least to be able to talk the language and understand the processes that the IT Manager has set up. And if you are managing the shop, then this is your job. You must know this stuff as a matter of professional responsibility and "keeping up" in your field.

A 20 min. presentation to the other managers on Best Practices and Processes in IT Management will gain you a lot of credibility and help lift you out of the geek gutter. There are decades worth of lessons that have been learned the hard way and documented into these processes. When you can demonstrate to management that you are drawing on a substantial body of knowledge that is geared towards improving service and reducing total cost of ownership, you will gain their respect (assuming that you care about their respect).

Beyond this, I want to emphasize an excellent point that Sanders makes in the article. The SysAdmin job is one that is invisible if you're doing it right. A good day at work is a boring day. Excitement is a sign that something has gone wrong. You should structure your environment to be as boring and reliable as possible.

Too many SysAdmins live off the adrenaline rush of fixing a broken server while everyone else in the organization sits on their thumbs waiting. That's costly for the organization, but ironically is the easy way out for the SysAdmin - you don't need to be disciplined or structure your time or do any planning or thinking, just jump from crisis to crisis. It's much more challenging to turn it into a boring desk job where most of your work is pushing paper and the machines pretty much take care of themselves. But guess which option is better for the organization's mission?

Once you do get to that Nirvana state of boring life, you can strategize how to produce some measurables so you can blow your department's horn at the monthly managers meeting. Because if you do your job well, with the result that your work is invisible, they'll cut your funding unless you keep in their face on a regular basis.

.nosig

Proffesionalism (1)

BattleWolf (637645) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993860)

One of the best desciptions of what I would say a SysAdmin has to be.

While I did not read the word "proffesionalism" anywhere in the article, and I feel that it should be there, his attitude to the job definitly shows that he is a proffesional...

I will encourage a few people to read this article.

Profound.... (5, Funny)

kien (571074) | more than 11 years ago | (#4993928)

My favorite bit from the interview:
"I have noticed that until the Internet became popular in the mid-90s it was social death to admit to any interest in computers, and it was certainly not acceptable to talk about them at parties. That's changed now. It's still considered "geeky" but it's not the unforgivable social crime that it once was. You still have to pretend not to know much about computers, but these days it's so you don't waste the entire party solving someone's computer problems for them."

Ye gods, how true! :)

--K.

Ignore this man at your peril (5, Insightful)

killbill (10058) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994007)

I have been administering systems for over a decade now. I do many of the technical interviews for the company I work for... or at least I did when we were hiring :( . Dismiss me if you want, I don't particularly care, but be aware it may be me or somebody much like me, on the other end of the phone the next time you try and get a job.

For everyone whining about the fact that he says a good sysadmin should have strong opinions based on experience... If you think that every problem is going to be so clear cut and so clean that you can just bang out an optimal solution and provide a clean and mathmatical defense for it, all you have done are home or academic excercises.

The problem domain for solutions is so incredibly broad, and so incredibly rich, that if you are not depending on collection of good solid abstract rules of thumb and effective practices, you will never get to a good solution. You have to use intuition to narrow down the problem domain to a few concrete approaches, and then apply logic and experience to decide which of them to implement and how.

These are not opinions like "NT Sucks, Linux rules", these are opinions like "I don't want to hinge my business case on an operating system controlled by a single vendor". I don't want an enterprise IT infrastructure that depends on technology that only runs on non-scalable hardware". "I don't want an operating system that I cannot remotely administer". "I want an operating system that allows me to update and maintian, stop, and start some subsystems without effecting other subsystems". "I want an operating system where I can apply security patches without being forced to install operating system updates". You get the idea.

Having an open mind is important, but at some point you have to get off your ass and decide something, and act upon that decision. The older I get, the more important I have realized this becomes.

A group of people with "strong opinions based on experience" can get together and hammer out a list of pro's and cons, and come up with an excellent solution to a problem, fully aware of what the solution does well and where it will be weak. It will be a stressfull meeting, and tempers may occasionally flare, but when you finally grind through it you will end up on solid ground, and everyone will likely be on board.

A bunch of people with "open minds and no strong opinions" are going to dither about endlessly and end up with an unfocused, innefective, designed by committe monstrosity.

Acedemia is all about exploration and investigation. Work is about getting things done. Note though that even the academia people typically won't get much "exploration" done if their home made router is down because it is an old Linux box built around a $20 commodity power supply that just went up in smoke, and the only guy that knew how to set up the IPTables to get the routing right left to go to grad school 3 months ago.

I am with this guy... a lack of a strong opinion and the ability to defend it, suggests to me a lack of experience. How on earth can you do something day in and day out, sweat over it, bleed over it, live and die by it, day by day and year by year, and not form an opinion?

Who knows more? (0, Flamebait)

RobFrontier (550029) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994042)

After reading the replies, I can say one thing with certainty. Every sysadmin knows more than every other sysadmin. BTW take the personality test, it's fast, and pretty cool. (ISTP)

Very unrewarding occupation (5, Insightful)

Mr_Icon (124425) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994046)

I've been a sysadmin for the past 5 years, two of them at a large department in a very big educational institution. I have to say that of all jobs I've had in the past, this is the most personally unrewarding.

Sure, the pay is good, and the benefits are nice, and you get to sit in your comfy chair most of the time punching buttons and not really doing anything in particular. However, this "bliss" comes with the following drawbacks:

Nobody appreciates what you do. Or, rather, extremely few people do. If you are good at your job, your name is only uttered when things don't work, and even then coupled with expletives. You can be a top-notch sysadmin, the best of the best, but people will still hate you when their "thingy" can't get to Yahoo. When you're doing a great job, it is taken for granted.

Your better is your users' worse. Any changes you make that are visible to end-users -- even if you have to do it due to the system growth -- are greeted with incredible resistance. People will complain both to you and your boss if they can no longer "click that picture and have it done." No matter if the changes you've implemented are extremely beneficial overall, and you've explained it to them time and over again: people will bitch and moan, and loathe you for any change in their routine.

Scheduled downtime is your fault. Occasional scheduled downtime is inevitable. Even if you had warned about this a month, two weeks, a week, two days, and a day ahead of the downtime, there will be people who will show up at your door and demand that you bring back their files at once because they have an important conference call to make. When you try to say that "I've WARNED everyone FIVE times!" they will claim that it's the first time they are hearing about it. Just doing your job seems to be a great way to piss people off.

You are on the job 24/7. I don't have a pager, and my home phone number is unlisted, so I have it better than most sysadmins. Yet, if I meet a coworker anywhere, I am instantly on the job the moment they see me. "Oh, good thing I ran into you! My computer has been making weird noises, and I was wondering..." Don't think about having lunch anywhere near where you work, either, or do it behind the locked doors of your office.

Computers won't love you back. You may pour your best into your cluster, but it won't answer with the same. Your tidy rack of dual athlons won't show you affection, greet you by wagging its tail, or be saddened when you leave for the weekend. It's just a lifeless hunk of iron, and the only time it gets hot feelings for you is when your air-conditioning goes offline.

I was an education major in college, and during one of the classes our professor told us: "when you start teaching, there will be rich schools and poor schools. If you work in one of the rich schools you will have a good salary, good budget, nice classrooms, and decent lunches. If you work in a poor school, you will have none of that, plus drugs, violence, and complete lack of parental involvement. Believe it or not, some people prefer to work in poor schools simply because if they are doing their job well, there will be people who will stop them every day in the hallway and tell them how much they admire their work. Not only that, but people working in poor schools are able to see with their own eyes how much difference they are making in the lives of the children they teach."

That seemed weird to me then, but now I think I understand. It all comes down to what one thinks to be a good reward for their work. If it is good pay, quick career path, and a Porshe by the time you're 30, then being a sysadmin is your dream job (granted, of course, that you're good at it). However, if you are looking for something that is personally rewarding, something you want to feel good about doing... You might want to pick a different carreer. Or at least do it only until you start feeling burnt-out.

Me? Oh, I'm quitting as soon as I can afford it. :)

I agree to a point (4, Insightful)

Genady (27988) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994152)

Most of what this guy says I've said from time to time. One of my bosses even said he didn't want to see me doing much beyond drinking coffee and surfing the net, because if he saw me doing something otherwise something was wrong.

That said, I don't see uptime as the holy grail of SysAdmining. Uptime and Availability have to be measured from a user's perspective, can the users use the system (the way that they want to)? You can have a system that is always up that no user uses because you've made it too hard to use. High uptime, low availability. A good SysAdmin is looking for ways to make the usage experience easier for their users.

This guy claims that a good sysadmin is the best informed in a company about IT. I'd add that a really good admin is the best informed about IT, and about the user's attitudes. A really good SysAdmin will take any problems with a system from a user's point of view to management. It's so easy for SysAdmins to miss the point. IT isn't about machines, IT is about enabeling other departments to do their jobs better. Anything you can do to maximize the bennefits to others affects their (and your) bottom line.

A dash of modesty never hurts either. When people ask me what I do I always pick a modest responce. I'm a virtual wrench turner just trying to keep things working. That gives people an easy mental image that isn't so far off from the truth really.

OMFG! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4994199)

I swear, this guy must be RMS' sister!

Who is this guy kidding? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4994225)

He doesn't go to parties!

And this is posted here why? (2)

Shoten (260439) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994244)

Now, I know that we here at Slashdot are just DYING to see how "the other half" lives...that being those who live in the world of technology, IT, and all that other techy stuff that we have no real experience with. I personally found it very gratifying to see what it's like to be a sysadmin, seeing as I've never done it myself. I'm sure that the overwhelming majority of Slashdot readers agree with me as well. Perhaps now that I know what it's like to be "in the trenches," I'll be a bit more polite when I am left clueless as to why I shouldn't have clicked on that attachment and have to ask for help cleaning up the mess.

Small-timer (5, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | more than 11 years ago | (#4994263)

This guy is not a senior systems adminstrator at a big ISP. He's a systems administrator at a small ISP. There's a difference.

The big shops have to be organized. They need automated everything, not people running around fixing stuff. They have to have an organized strategy for growth and replacement. (Some of those strategies are unusual. At one large service provider, machines are installed in clusters of 100 and never serviced thereafter. Dead machines are switched off remotely. When 20% of the machines in a cluster have died, the entire cluster is replaced.) They need written procedures and manuals. They need physical layout standards. They need three-shift coverage. Most importantly, they need overall architectures that limit the consequences of failures and make it easy to find out what failed.

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