After SysAdmin Day, a Look at the Role Then and Now

Another SysAdmin Day has come and gone. And if you haven’t thanked your sysadmins yet, now might be a good time to do it. After all, every organization has a Gilfoyle (Warning: NSFW) that runs IT. And according to the senior systems architect of HBO's “Silicon Valley,” this is exactly what their job entails:

“I prevent cross-site scripting; I monitor for DDoS attacks, emergency database rollbacks, and faulty transaction handlings. The internet. Heard of it? … It’s not magic; it’s talent and sweat. People like me, ensuring your packets get delivered, unsniffed. So what do I do? I make sure that one bad configuration on one key component doesn’t bankrupt the entire company.”

Thanks to Ted Kekatos, SysAdmin Day is celebrated by many companies around the globe, and users have a chance to acknowledge the huge contribution that IT admins make to the upkeep of information technology. And there’s good reason to celebrate sysadmins; the last two decades have kept IT teams on their toes. Sysadmins have had to play catch-up in terms of understanding business, learning new technology as well as defenses against cyberthreats. To think that just under two decades ago 500 MB hard drives, 8” FDD, and tape drives for storage seemed to be some of the coolest things out there.

With most things in vogue a decade ago now relegated to the Jurassic age, some perceptions about sysadmins have yet to change. Many individuals not in IT still think that sysadmins install and maintain hardware and software and stereotype them as being folks who hate to socialize and sport messy desks. IT admins, as we know them today, manage enterprise security or data centers, sift through gigabytes of logs, analyze network traffic and learn new tools to cope with managing more and more resources that keep getting added to IT.

While technology ushers IT forward, it also introduces challenges and issues that are more sophisticated and complex in nature. Consider DDoS attacks, for instance. The number of DDoS attacks is said to have increased nine percent every quarter from 2016 to 2017 according to a study by Corero, a network security vendor.

On the one hand, IT admins have to thwart DDoS attacks, most of which are smokescreens for bigger attacks. On the other hand, they have to gear up to handle the bigger threat that awaits. This makes their job a mix of tactical and reactive tasks, including coping with an unexpected enterprise security breach and also planning more forward-looking projects, such as enforcing additional security policies and deploying improved security solutions. Sysadmins enable their enterprises to make the right technology decisions that align with their business.

A few systemic changes have managed to successfully push IT admins into the spotlight. Many IT vendors have come together to show their appreciation for IT admins, and it is heartening to see their zealous attempts to create awareness among individuals both outside and within their company. Workplaces are more inclusive when interactions with IT admins are not limited to password reset requests or complaints about poor Wi-Fi.

The transformation of IT over the decades has also altered workplace engagements between employees across departments. It’s common practice now for employees to exchange notes on what’s happening in their departments. IT teams get to educate internal users on password best practices, data theft, BYOD policies and so much more. These gestures have helped put to rest some old perceptions associated with IT administration.

From the IT management industry standpoint, more and more vendors have been building affordable solutions and tools to enable and empower IT admins to gain insights on what enterprise business is all about and how to do IT right. The new-gen tools are also less demanding in terms of the time it takes to learn and adapt to them. It is also quite common to see many vendors providing free editions so that IT admins have some time to explore and decide what solutions best fit their IT management needs. With cloud and IoT constantly challenging and altering the definition of IT administration, IT management vendors keep reinventing themselves to handle the convergence of information technology and business.

It will be interesting to see how IT admins’ roles morph into varied yet even more powerful ones within the next few years and how the world of information technology will keep challenging them.

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