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SysAdmins: The backbone of our organisations

SysAdmin Day has arrived, giving us a chance to show appreciation for our system administrators.

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They are the ones who undertake the work on the front line of the IT world, handling everything from system failures to updating hardware and a variety of other tasks in between. Unfortunately, because much of the work they do takes place behind the scenes, they are often under-appreciated despite being so integral to day-to-day runnings. We spoke to ten technology experts to give us a better insight into the vital work SysAdmins carry out and how we can appreciate them going forward.

The lack of acknowledgement of SysAdmins seems to stem from a lack of understanding their work.

Mike Gosling, IT Service Platforms Manager at Cubic Transportation Systems expands, “whilst SysAdmins are respected within the IT profession, many people do not understand the scope and complexity of their role. High quality IT services are often taken for granted, with the phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ proving indicative. Indeed, organisations have a tendency to recognise customer facing staff more than roles like the SysAdmin, which keep systems running behind the scenes”.

In order to rectify this under-appreciation, it is first important to realise what the role of a SysAdmin involves. Paul Farrington, Chief Product Officer at Glasswall explains: “SysAdmins are vital employees – from ensuring that system patches are rolled out on time, to monitoring the performance of all IT systems to ensure they’re working effectively, SysAdmins keep their organisations delivering services to customers”.

Advanced skillsets demanded of SysAdmins

The position also requires a great deal of multitasking as Terry Storrar, Managing Director, Leaseweb UK highlights. “SysAdmins not only have to contend with day-to-day tasks, they also have to be crisis managers in the event of a natural disaster or cyber attack. In addition to this, they also have to keep up with the latest IT trends, home working and introduction of BYOD – no mean feat by anyone’s standards. When it comes to multitasking and wearing many hats, SysAdmins reign supreme”.

David Miller, SVP Technology, at Fluent Commerce also touches on the many roles SysAdmins cover: “they have evolved into DevOps, cloud, and site reliability engineers (SREs) in the age of the cloud. These individuals are the backbone of organisations by ensuring shipping software is cost-effective, reliable, secure and performant. By converting committed code into value that is delivered to clients, they empower users to have all they need to accomplish their jobs securely.”

He adds “they are the foundation for ensuring that performance and availability are increasing globally. On SysAdmin Day, we are proud to honour their dedication and hard work.”

With technology advancing, this only means the requirements expected of SysAdmins are increasing. Richard Orange, Vice President EMEA at Exabeam furthers, “their job is getting harder every year. Challenges now facing SysAdmins include supporting a geographically diverse workforce, while contending with an ever-expanding attack surface and diminishing distinguishable corporate perimeter.

“And, as organisations become increasingly cloud-focused, SysAdmins are doing a huge amount of the heavy lifting when it comes to migration. Accelerated cloud adoption is also removing some of the previous security controls inherent in provisioning on-premise infrastructure, causing further complexities for our SysAdmins”.

Working from home impact

The pandemic thrust everyone into the unknown territory of working from home, meaning different things for different professions and industries, and SysAdmins were no exception. Steve Young, UKI Sales Engineering Director at Commvault, explains, “as working from home has doubled in the UK in the past two years, more employees are remotely accessing company networks than ever before. At the same time, the threat landscape has grown dramatically, with 39% of UK businesses suffering a cyberattack in 2021. Not only are there now more potential entry points for bad actors to access systems, but files are increasingly being stored locally, creating a greater risk of data loss as a result of shadow IT and files not being backed up. For this reason, the job of a SysAdmin has never been more necessary”.

Despite these added challenges, SysAdmins continue to persevere. Rob Gilbert, Managing Director for Commercial and Logistics Business at Totalmobile discusses how this is evident within the transport sector. “Despite this increase in workload and simultaneous decrease in team members, SysAdmins have worked around the clock during the past few years and helped to successfully keep the country moving – literally. It’s important therefore to take the time to appreciate them for keeping drivers on the road. Just one of the ways businesses can do this is through training and development: creating a clear path for career progression through regular training sessions and opportunities to take on greater responsibilities, supported by fit-for-purpose and innovative technologies that enable them to deliver maximum value”.

Valuing your SysAdmins

No one can argue that the role of SysAdmins is easy, by any means, therefore we must remember to value them and the work they do. Gregg Mearing, CTO at Node4 notes, “SysAdmins quietly bear the full-force of any and all IT business challenges thrown their way. And while they bear the huge responsibility of making sure every piece of equipment and technology runs correctly and efficiently, a SysAdmin’s job is often overlooked. We should appreciate these crucial workers everyday – if you rarely notice the work of a SysAdmin, it proves how good of a job they do! Take time this SysAdmin Day to celebrate the unsung heroes of your business”.

There is a role we can all play in appreciating SysAdmins. Steve Cochran, CTO, ConnectWise advises, “the best thing an organisation can do to support its SysAdmins is to find the right programs to provide insight into workflows and efficiency while facilitating system response monitoring. This frees up SysAdmin to address other, more pressing issues so they are able to be more proactive and handle reactive situations with ease”.

Hugh ScantleburyHugh Scantlebury, CEO and Founder of Aqilla concludes, “they play a central role in maintaining applications, coordinating cloud services and environments, managing data storage and business continuity strategies, and supporting the broader IT infrastructure. They’re the people who keep our networks up and running, rain or shine. We simply would not be able to work without them”.


SysAdmin Day 2021 | Not all heroes wear capes

Female working in a Technical Support Team Gives Instructions with the Help of the Headsets. In the Background People Working and Monitors Show Various Information, SysAdmin Day

System administrators are the unsung heroes of a business. They ensure daily IT operations run smoothly and any technical problems are fixed efficiently.

However, working in the background, they are often overlooked and under-appreciated.

The 30th July is SysAdmin Day – a day to talk about the vital work that system administrators carry out and appreciate how they keep our businesses running. In 2021, after a turbulent year of remote working and a return to the office for some, it is more important than ever to appreciate the people who have allowed for the seamless transition into flexible working.

With this in mind, WeAreTechWomen spoke to multiple IT industry experts to get their opinion on the importance of sysadmins and how we can show our appreciation for all they do.

The backbone of a business

Daniel Lizama, Leaseweb GlobalSysadmins mostly work in the background, on hand to resolve any issues that may arise and ensuring that the day-to-day running of the business goes smoothly. Daniel Lizama, Team Manager, System Administration at Leaseweb, recognises that, “day after day, these professionals manage to produce solutions to problems. At Leaseweb Global, for two weeks each month, every sysadmin is available on 24-hour call. No matter the day or time, when an issue arises at Leaseweb Global, a skilled sysadmin is quickly available to deal with it.”

However, sysadmins don’t just wait around for problems to arise for them to fix.

“Your system administrator will play a key role in enhancing your organisation’s cyber security posture, as they manage and maintain best practice configurations of the systems that hackers are targeting, 24/7,” explains Thomas Cartlidge, Head of Threat Intelligence at Six Degrees.

Surya Varanasi, StorCentric“It was impressive to see the number of sysadmins that have elevated their backup strategy from basic to unbreakable,” adds Surya Varanasi, Chief Technology Officer at StorCentric. “In other words, they knew that for today’s ransomware they needed to protect backed up data by making it immutable and by eliminating any way that data could be deleted or corrupted.

“With these capabilities in-hand, these savvy sysadmins alleviated their worry about their ability to recover — and redirected their time and attention to activities that more directly impacted their organisation’s bottom-line objectives. And that is indeed something to appreciate!”

Dave Miller, Fluent CommerceAt Fluent Commerce, sysadmins have not only been tackling their own to-do lists, but have transformed into DevOps, Cloud and Site Reliability Engineers. “These unsung heroes make sure shipping software is cost effective, reliable, secure and performant. They make sure users have what they need to get the job done whilst making sure it’s secure—turning commited code into value shipped to customers. The buck stops with them to ensure performance and availability on a global scale is constantly improving,” tells David Miller, Senior Vice President, Director of Technology.

Carrying on through COVID

Adding to this, a sysadmin’s job has never been more difficult than in the last year. As different waves of COVID thrust the UK in and out of national lockdowns, employees were forced into remote working and left dependent on technology to allow them access to the required systems. It was sysadmins who ensured that this was possible.

Gregg Mearing, Node4“Executing their role with skill, confidence, and with an on-going problem-solving ability, the sysadmins are the ones that have been quietly bearing the full-force of the IT business challenges the past year has presented,” explains Gregg Mearing as Chief Technology Officer at Node4. “National lockdowns and their variations throughout 2020 and at the beginning of this year meant that most businesses were thrust into embracing remote working. This placed unique and unprecedented challenges on IT operations. Because of this, it is arguably more important than ever to recognise the vital role that these employees play.”

Chris Hornung, Totalmobile“Lockdowns and skeleton workforces have placed a renewed importance on suitable, reliable technology that allows people to carry out their work,” furthers Chris Hornung, Chief Operating Officer of Totalmobile. “Without sysadmins, remote workers would be more susceptible to detrimental problems, such as server failures, overloaded systems, and downtime, preventing them from maintaining high customer service levels. By keeping platforms such as scheduling software and mobile workforce management running, sysadmins have allowed mobile workers to carry out their day to day operations largely uninterrupted by the effects of COVID.”

“The entire world shifted on its axis in the past year and a half, yet our sysadmins still managed to produce the quality needed for customers. Despite constantly shifting conditions, Leaseweb Global’s sysadmin team managed to deliver splendidly,” Lizama states.

Dwain Stuart, Content GuruIn the contact centre industry, “sysadmins have worked behind the scenes to ensure that physical equipment, from servers to laptops, is suited to this new working environment, and have supported agents by migrating equipment from physical contact centres to home offices. The challenge moving forwards will be bringing agents back to a hybrid environment, with some remaining at home while others return to physical sites,” explains Dwain Stuart, Production Engineer at Content Guru.

Ways to show your appreciation 

Agata Nowakowska, SkillsoftThis SysAdmin Day, showing appreciation for sysadmins should go further than saying a quick ‘thank you.’

“By increasing the amount of support and training they offer, employers can demonstrate that sysadmins’ support is valuable – and worth investing in. Providing opportunities for upskilling and learning new certifications will also help keep sysadmins more engaged and equipped to meet the demands of the modern workplace,” explains Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President EMEA at Skillsoft.

Tim Bandos, Digital Guardian“Understanding the valuable input of your sysadmins and IT teams is something business leaders should tune into more. A common mistake by the executives is not involving their in-house team of experts in these discussions,” agrees Tim Bandos, Chief Information Security Officer & Vice President of Managed Security Services, Digital Guardian.

“They know the business, and when it comes to change, implementing new processes, or migration planning, they deserve to be a part of the conversation. This SysAdmin Day, acknowledge your sysadmin team, acknowledge what they have to say about the inner workings of your operations, and make sure they are feeling supported in what they do – the same way they continuously support your organisation.”

By applying new solutions to aid sysadmins in their job, organisations can demonstrate their appreciation for their work, as well as benefiting the business as a whole.

Alex Chircop, StorageOS“Transitioning to a cloud-native solution can make the life of a sysadmin much more comfortable,” agrees Alex Chircop, Founder and CEO at StorageOS. “Kubernetes offers fast failover, scalability, a platform-agnostic approach, and resource efficiency to sysadmins and provides them fewer issues to deal with. With Kubernetes rising, sysadmins can make sure a business’s infrastructure is managing heavy workloads at a faster pace than before.”

“SysAdmin Day exists as a reminder to appreciate one of the hardest working professionals behind a workstation,” he concludes. “They are the backbone of any company. At StorageOS, we try to ensure that sysadmins go from being known as unsung heroes in the tech industry to being thanked daily.”


Cloud computing featured

5 must-know job roles in the cloud sector - who do you need on your team?

Cloud computing

When it comes to securing the best people for your organisation, there needs to be considerable thought put into what is needed, which will vary depending on the size of the project.

Working in the cloud sector means employees require knowledge of advancing technologies, what role they play in a company, and the security features and cost involved. But there are also a range of soft skills needed, to run throughout a successful team which should not be overlooked.

To be part of a modern-day workforce in such an industry, staff members need a collaborative approach. They have to be open and embracing to change, understand DevOps, and be willing to upskill to remain relevant in an ever-changing tech arena. Organisations are increasingly working in flatter structures, meaning employees need to perform in an autonomous, agile way.  Adopting the mindset of lifelong learning is useful and people can fine tune through learning on the job – through mentoring, formal training and boosting qualities via cloud specific tooling skills, such as Amazon Web Services Training.

But what does it take to ensure a well-oiled machine operates in the cloud sector in today’s society? Elements covering infrastructure, security, storage, networking, and governance all have to be acknowledged. Rachel McElroy, sales and marketing director for cloud sector and DevOps specialist Cranford Group, underlines the five key roles every business needs, to be a success when using technology.

Product owner

Also known as a ‘project manager’ or ‘cloud project manager’, this person understands the commercial and governance sides of the firm. They’re the all-seeing eye, ensuring the team keeps in-line with the budget, and understands what’s needed – in relation to timings and resources – to complete the project. They usually work with other teams during the sales cycle, so they can outline a project’s delivery, and are adept at constructing high-level plans, delivering reports, and leading meetings. It’s a role which suits customer-facing people who can manage several projects at once, and have excellent communication and written skills.

Cloud architect

Usually an IT specialist, they oversee cloud strategy and are concerned with the design network, and the project’s infrastructure. They understand what the customer wants, and work on the best ways to achieve those needs, with a measured approach. They must possess the technical expertise to understand sysadmin, as well as have software development experience, and a good knowledge of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). It’s a position that’s very hands-on, so needs an innovative thinker, who can lead on cloud efficiency.

Developer

A strong background of specific skills such as streaming analytics, data integration, and knowledge of .NET, Java and AWS or Google Cloud Platform are a must for the strongest developers. They should be able to build cloud-compatible frameworks, evaluate emerging technologies, and ideally have DevOps experience. These kinds of positions suit those with a background in computer technology and often a qualification in computer science, or something related. There are also many soft skills involved, including leadership to plan and co-ordinate projects, an agile mind-set, and ability to adapt to lots of change within the cloud sector.

Security architect or analyst

Another highly important role within a team, this person keeps computer systems safe from cyber-attacks. They also need to translate security features to customers, so must be a strong communicator with stakeholders and colleagues. From a hard skills perspective, this is somebody who understands Windows, Cisco systems, VM (virtual machine) work, and testing, amongst other services. A security architect is likely to hold TOGAF, SABSA or CCP accreditations, and be familiar with cyber-attack pathologies, as well as cloud service models. There might also be a junior architect involved in the team, to support ongoing projects.

Service desk

Fully embraced in being customer-focused, those on the service desk completely understand their company. They have to be knowledgeable, approachable and personable with every side of an organisation’s cloud capacity – from the security aspects to the installation process, data and knowledge of the technology customers require. Strong in problem-solving, this position welcomes trouble-shooters and those with a calm attitude when the pressure is on.

It’s vital that, when putting a team together, each person has a key role to play in the delivery of a successful cloud project. A balance of soft skills and team ethic – alongside relevant qualifications – is crucial. And, those that are willing to upskill and fine tune their experience to keep up with ever-evolving industry trends, can keep an organisation ahead of the curve in a competitive sector.

Rachel McElroy, Sales and Marketing Director, Cascade Group 1About the author

Rachel McElroy is a director at Cranford Group – a cloud resourcing specialist – and passionate about a variety of tech topics including digital disruption, tech skills development, agile working, remote working, women in tech, talent on demand, and DevOps. She is currently penning a white paper which will take a comprehensive look at the effects of technology and cloud adoption on the workplace. Covering topics from AI to diversity, and change management to leadership, such contributors to her research include Microsoft, ServiceNow, Alibaba Cloud, Cloud Industry Forum, AutoTrader, Ensono, Cloud Gateway – to name just a few! An eloquent and well-respected industry commentator, Rachel spoke at Cloud Expo Europe in March 2019 and in February, was appointed as a judge at the UK Cloud Awards 2019.


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SysAdmin Day 2020: Appreciate the invisible heroes of IT

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Keeping many businesses moving this year would have been near impossible if not for the technology that enables many employees to work from home.

But more than the technology itself, the system administrators – or SysAdmins – that support it are equally as important. SysAdmins have helped enable thousands of employees across the country to continue working despite the pandemic; without this, many of these businesses would likely have collapsed.

This System Administrator Appreciation Day, we should all take the time to acknowledge and thank these IT heroes for their hard work and dedication. WeAreTechWomen spoke to six IT industry experts to hear their thoughts on how and why we should do this.

How 2020 has ramped up the pressure

The impact that the pandemic has had on all IT employees is immense, including for the SysAdmins trying to keep everyone else online. Alan Conboy, Office of the CTO at Scale Computing, encourages businesses to recognise this.

Alan Conboy Scale Computing, SysAdmins“Consistent, reliable and responsive, SysAdmins have been the backbone of our industry during these challenging times. Without them, we would all be more susceptible to all the usual issues – server failures, downtime and problems with upgrades and capacity – but even in the midst of the crisis, SysAdmins have maintained their teams’ momentum to overcome IT challenges, with a plan of attack for the next time.

“They’ve played a vital role in maintaining business resilience, ensuring companies worldwide could quickly and effectively mobilise their workforce to work remotely by keeping platforms like virtual desktop infrastructure running, making it possible to extend the remote capabilities of the workforce in a predictable and easy to manage way, without compromising enterprise security.

“Today, we celebrate all SysAdmins with a special offer that acts as a good reminder for organisations to always provide their SysAdmins with the tools, resources and words of encouragement they deserve to continue supporting our IT infrastructures, particularly through times of crisis.”

Harrison Wigg Content Guru, SysAdminsHarrison Wigg, Production Engineer at Content Guru, agrees that, “this year there have been added pressures. With organisations and schools everywhere undergoing a monumental shift to homeworking, it has been the SysAdmins working behind the scenes to ensure this is done as efficiently and securely as possible. We have had to ensure that physical equipment, from servers to laptops, is suited to this new working environment, and have supported staff by migrating equipment – from monitors to chairs – home for them.

“From a business continuity perspective, I feel that a SysAdmin’s role has been vital in keeping companies afloat throughout these past few months. Although the whole process of migrating everyone home has been challenging, the importance of ensuring it was done as perfectly as possible is unquestionable. And we get to do it all again now that staff are slowly migrating back to the office!”

It’s not only private businesses that have struggled with the sudden need for change but public sector organisations too, as Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds, explains:

Sascha Giese SolarWinds, SysAdmin“While doctors and nurses have been saving lives and the central government has determined how to keep the country running, the IT systems on which this sector relies have been mission-critical. From the systems behind the NHS 111 helpline to the data collection and analysis shared by Number 10, technology has underpinned it all. It has also helped ensure many non-frontline employees can work from home safely and securely. SysAdmins are the team members working behind the scenes to uphold IT quality and functionality in all organisations, and to keep systems from suffering downtime—and this can be the difference between life and death, particularly during a pandemic. As the country begins to recover, it’s crucial for IT leaders to recognise the hard work of their SysAdmins and their vital role over the last few months, and they should provide training and tools to help them do their jobs even better.”

With that in mind, how exactly can all organisations improve the role of SysAdmins?

Ways to help ease the load

Brett Cheloff ConnectWiseBrett Cheloff, VP of ConnectWise Automate, ConnectWise, details how finding the right software solutions can increase efficiency:

“With responsibilities such as proactive network monitoring, conducting routine maintenance, and managing ticket flow and security, SysAdmins need expert efficiency to get the job done. But as routine pitfalls produce extra work, even the most experienced technicians struggle to keep up with the demands of a modern IT infrastructure.

“These processes can be made much easier by using the right software. SysAdmins should seek out programs that provide insight into workflows and efficiency as well as facilitate system response monitoring. Doing so will improve overall response time and allow SysAdmins to reallocate their time to other important tasks. With the right product and processes, they can be more proactive-oriented and better prepared to handle reactive situations.”

JG Heithcock, Retrospect_StorCentric, SysAdmin“You can only have a successful remote team deployment with constant communication, which requires reliable, responsive and resourceful team members – three key attributes of SysAdmins,” comments JG Heithcock, GM at Retrospect, a StorCentric company. “As we continue to work remotely and consider hybrid working environments in the future, it’s important for organisations to optimise their businesses and provide SysAdmins with the resources needed to seamlessly transition to this new normal by implementing the latest AI technologies to backup engines where possible and consolidate backup management to a single pane of glass. By securing and maintaining backups, SysAdmins will have the tools necessary to streamline workflows with efficient and reliable data backup solutions to keep businesses running and protected across changing working environments.”

Agata NowakowskaAgata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft, admires the job of SysAdmins not just during the pandemic but prior to this, as she highlights that, “the SysAdmin role was no easy feat pre-COVID. SysAdmins face rising pressures and are expected to have a detailed knowledge of various technical programming languages. They need to be available at a moment's notice, ready to support numerous new technologies as organisations power ahead with digital transformation.”

She continues by adding how training should be an increasing priority: “We should mark SysAdmin day this year by not only showing our appreciation for the role SysAdmins have played during the recent shift to remote working, but by increasing the ongoing support and training we offer people in this essential role. Organisations need to provide the opportunities for their SysAdmins to upskill and learn new certifications so they can continue to provide valuable support, even during periods of great change.”

Though SysAdmins are not always the most visible of employees, most organisations would falter quickly without them. As many workers slowly start to return to offices – or continue to embrace the new normal of working from home – it’s important to recognise the crucial role that SysAdmins play in keeping IT systems up and running, and we should celebrate them not just on July 31st, but every day!


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