System administrator

System administrator

A system administrator, systems administrator, or sysadmin, is a person employed to maintain and operate a computer system and/or network. System administrators may be members of an information technology department.

The duties of a system administrator are wide-ranging, and vary widely from one organization to another. Sysadmins are usually charged with installing, supporting, and maintaining servers or other computer systems, and planning for and responding to service outages and other problems. Other duties may include scripting or light programming, project management for systems-related projects, supervising or training computer operators, and being the consultant for computer problems beyond the knowledge of technical support staff. A System Administrator must demonstrate a blend of technical skills and responsibility.


The "subject matter" of systems administration includes computer systems and the ways people use them in an organization. This entails a knowledge of operating systems and applications, as well as hardware and software troubleshooting, but also knowledge of the purposes for which people in the organization use the computers.

However, perhaps the most important "skill" to a system administrator is problem solving -- frequently under various sorts of constraints and stress. The sysadmin is on call when a computer system goes down or malfunctions, and must be able to quickly and correctly diagnose what is wrong and how best to fix it.

System administrators are not software engineers or developers. It is not usually within their duties to design or write new applications software. However, sysadmins must understand the behavior of software in order to deploy it and to troubleshoot problems, and generally know several programming languages used for scripting or automation of routine tasks.

Particularly when dealing with Internet-facing or business-critical systems, a sysadmin must have a strong grasp of computer security. This includes not merely deploying software patches, but also preventing break-ins and other security problems with preventive measures. In some organizations, computer security administration is a separate role responsible for overall security and the upkeep of firewalls and intrusion detection systems, but all sysadmins are generally responsible for the security of the systems in their keep.

Related fields

Many organizations staff other jobs related to systems administration. In a larger company, these may all be separate positions within a computer support or Information Services (IS) department. In a smaller group they may be shared by a few sysadmins, or even a single person.

* A database administrator (DBA) maintains a database system, and is responsible for the integrity of the data and the efficiency and performance of the system.
* A network administrator maintains network infrastructure such as switches and routers, and diagnoses problems with these or with the behavior of network-attached computers.
* A security administrator is a specialist in computer and network security, including the administration of security devices such as firewalls, as well as consulting on general security measures.
* A web administrator maintains web server services (such as IIS or Apache) that allow for internal or external access to web sites. Tasks include managing multiple sites, administering security, and configuring necessary components and software. Responsibilities may also include software change management.
* Technical support staff respond to individual users' difficulties with computer systems, provide instructions and sometimes training, and diagnose and solve common problems.
* A computer operator performs routine maintenance and upkeep, such as changing backup tapes or replacing failed drives in a RAID array. Such tasks usually require physical presence in the room with the computer; and while less skilled than sysadmin tasks require a similar level of trust, since the operator has access to possibly sensitive data.

In some organizations, a person may begin as a member of technical support staff or a computer operator, then gain experience on the job to be promoted to a sysadmin position.


Unlike many other professions, there is no single path to becoming a system administrator. Many system administrators have a degree in a related field: computer science, information technology, computer engineering, information system management, or even a trade school program. Other schools have offshoots of their Computer Science program specifically for systems administration.

Some schools have started offering undergraduate degrees in Systems Administration. The first, RIT [] started in 1992. Others such as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Marist College, and Drexel University have more recently offered degrees in Information Technology.

As of 2008, only four U.S. universities, Rochester Institute of Technology [] , New York City College of Technology,Tufts, and Michigan Tech have graduate programs in system administration.Fact|date=February 2007 In Norway, there is a special English-taught MSc program organized by Oslo University College [] in cooperation with Oslo University, named "Masters programme in Network and System Administration." University of Amsterdam (UvA) offers a similar program [ [ Universiteit en Hogeschool van Amsterdam: ICT in Amsterdam - Opleidingen - Master System and Network Engineering] ] , in cooperation with Hogeschool van Amsterdam (HvA). However, many other schools offer related graduate degrees in fields such as network systems and computer security.

One of the primary difficulties with teaching system administration as a formal university discipline, is that the industry and technology changes much faster than the typical textbook and coursework certification process. By the time a new textbook has spent years working through approvals and committees, the specific technology for which it is written may have changed significantly or is now obsolete.

In addition, because of the practical nature of systems administration and the easy availability of open-source server software, many systems administrators enter the field self-taught.

Generally, a prospective administrator will be required to have some experience with the computer system he or she is expected to manage. In some cases, candidates are expected to possess industry certifications such as the Microsoft MCSA, MCSE, Red Hat RHCE, Novell CNA, CNE, Cisco CCNA or CompTIA's A+ or Network+, Sun Certified SCNA, among others.

Sometimes, almost exclusively in smaller sites, the role of system administrator may be given to a skilled user in addition to or in replacement of his or her duties. For instance, it is not unusual for a mathematics or computing teacher to serve as the system administrator of a secondary school.

Duties of a system administrator

A system administrator's responsibilities might include:

* Analyzing system logs and identifying potential issues with computer systems.
* Introducing and integrating new technologies into existing data center environments.
* Performing routine audits of systems and software.
* Performing backups.
* Applying operating system updates, patches, and configuration changes.
* Installing and configuring new hardware and software.
* Adding, removing, or updating user account information, resetting passwords, etc.
* Answering technical queries.
* Responsibility for security.
* Responsibility for documenting the configuration of the system.
* Troubleshooting any reported problems.
* System performance tuning.
* Insuring that the network infrastructure is up and running.

In larger organizations, some tasks listed above may be divided among different system administrators or members of different organizational groups. For example, a dedicated individual(s) may apply all system upgrades, a Quality Assurance (QA) team may perform testing and validation, and one or more technical writers may be responsible for all technical documentation written for a company.

In smaller organizations, the system administrator can also perform any number of duties elsewhere associated with other fields:

*Technical support
*Database administrator (DBA)
*Network administrator/analyst/specialist
*Application analyst
*Security administrator

System administrators, in larger organizations, tend not to be system architects, system engineers, or system designers. However, like many roles in this field, between systems administration and other technical roles often are not well defined in smaller organizations. Even in larger organizations, senior systems administrators often have skills in these other areas as a result of their working experience.

In smaller organizations, IT/computing specialties are less often discerned in detail, and the term "system administrator" is used in a rather generic way — they are the people who know how the computer systems work and can respond when something fails.

System Administrator Privileges

The term system administrator may also be used to describe a privilege which a computer owner must obtain on his or her own computer to perform certain actions even if the computer is not part of a larger system.

ee also

* superuser
* alt.sysadmin.recovery newsgroup
* System Administrator Appreciation Day
* Apple certification
* Forum administrator
* LISA (conference)


External links

Certification Organizations

* [ BSD Certification]
* [ CompTIA's] Certification
* [ ITIL] for ITIL certification (part of Office of Government Commerce)
* [ Red Hat's Certification Curriculum] for RHCE and RHCA
* [ Linux Professional Institute] offers distribution-agnostic Linux Systems Administrator certifications for LPIC
* [ Microsoft Certification Page] for MCSA
* [ Sun Certification Page] for SCSA and SCNA


* [ BigAdmin Newsletter]
* [ SysAdmin Magazine - Linux & Unix only]
* [ ;login:]


* [ Large Installation System Administration Conference (LISA)] , sponsored by USENIX and SAGE


* Essential Systems Administration (O'Reilly), 3rd Edition, 2001, by Æleen Frisch
* Principles of Network and System Administration (J. Wiley & Sons), 2000,2003(2ed), by Mark Burgess
* The Practice of System and Network Administration (Addison-Wesley), 2001, by Thomas A. Limoncelli and Christine Hogan
* The Practice of System and Network Administration (Addison-Wesley), 2nd Edition (July 5, 2007), by Thomas A. Limoncelli, Christine Hogan and Strata R. Chalup
* Time Management for System Administrators (O'Reilly), 2005, by Thomas A. Limoncelli
* UNIX System Administration Handbook (Prentice Hall PTR), 3rd Edition, 2000, by Evi Nemeth, Garth Snyder, Scott Seebass, Trent R. Hein

Online Resources

* [ - the free Sysadmin "best practice" encyclopedia that anyone can edit]
* [ System administrator day, the last Friday of July]
* [ The Network Engineer - Learn practical system administration.]
* [ BigAdmin - System Administrator Resources and Community]
* [ LinuxZoo - Learn system administration online using free-access virtual machines]
* [ Sysadmin wiki] - Wiki for system administrators
* [ Realtime Publishers] - Free eBooks for system administrators
* [ Research on system administration]
* [ Planet Sysadmin] - Blog aggregator of sysadmin-related feeds
* [] - Another blog aggregator of sysadmin-related feeds
* [ Wikiversity System Administration topic]
* [ The System Administrator] - Free Tip and Tricks for IT System and Network Administrators
* [ Everything Sysadmin] - Blog written by authors of several sysadmin books
* [ System administrator guide] - System administration blog
* [ The Linux System Administrators' Guide]

Technology Unions and related links

* [ techs unite]
* [ Communication Workers of America]


* [ Hot IT jobs: Systems administrator] , ComputerWorld, August 26, 2007

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