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Howard Marks
Howard Marks
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Happy SysAdmin Day To All

One day of streamers and cake doesn't make up for all the hard work underappreciated sysadmins do.

I discovered -- almost too late to write this blog post -- that today is System Administrator Appreciation Day. Having spent much of my career as a Windows, and before that NetWare, sysadmin, I understand how unappreciated the average sysadmin feels. Maybe, just maybe, those poor introverted servants -- and masters -- of the servers will get the attention they deserve.

Now I know as a Windows sysadmin, I’m a second class citizen. I mean until recently you HAD to manage Windows through the GUI; there were functions for which there just weren’t CLI commands or accessible APIs. Sure I wrote a lot of batch files and KIX scripts, but the Linux guys would never let me forget that real men used BASH and PERL. One of the first things I tried to teach my junior sysadmins was that the difference between apprentice and journeyman admins is the ability to script. Today, Powershell can script anything a Windows admin can do through the GUI.

Meanwhile, sysadmins have to take a bigger view than ever before. For many years, all a journeyman sysadmin had to know was his or her environment. You knew Linux or Windows and stuck to your platform. As we virtualize and automate the data center, the world of the sysadmin has expanded. Now sysadmins have to manage the hypervisor and the guest machines, which adds another platform, usually vSphere, and another console, vCenter.

Managing the hypervisor means closer interaction with the network team than, “open a port and give me an IP address in zone 14A,” as vSwitches extend the network into the hypervisor. We also have to think more about storage as data stores replace LUNs as the in-house unit of allocation.

So on this 14th annual SysAdmin Day, all hail the sysadmin: The overworked, underappreciated answerer of 4 a.m. phone calls, the weekend warrior updating Exchange at 2 a.m. who we trust with access to just about everything and often just wants to be left alone to finish the Puppet script to update 500 server’s ROM BIOS. Let’s give these people T-shirts and decorate their cubicles with streamers. Give the poor overweight guy some cake -- that will really help his blood sugar.

Of course the curmudgeon in me thinks events like SysAdmin Day, Administrative Professional’s Day (April 23), and Backup Awareness Day(February 24) are like the rightfully maligned participation trophies the fat kid gets at the annual youth soccer awards dinner: A way of letting everyone know their contributions are appreciated in a meaningless, insignificant way.

After all, if companies really appreciated what sysadmins do, they’d hire enough of them that their average work week was under 50 hours and they could actually take comp time for the nights and weekends they work. They'd also pay for training and certifications to not only build the poor guy’s self-esteem, but so he could do his job better. Give a kid some training videos on Powershell or PhP and he’ll be able to keep up as you throw more work at him later. Keep him in the dungeon and you’ve just got a worn out serf.

At least SysAdmin Day isn't like the recent National Hot Dog Day or National Ice Cream Month -- just a way for the corporations to sell more of whatever they make.

Howard Marks is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage ... View Full Bio
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