So You Want to Be a Network Administrator

Thick skin required. Any application or service performance problem incurred will inevitably lead a network administrator having to prove that it’s not a network problem.

So You Want to Be a Network Administrator
(Source: Pixabay)

Selecting the ideal IT career path is not always easy. Many newcomers to the IT space are open minded when it comes to trying out a range of entry-level careers. However, when it comes to administrator roles, including those in the field of enterprise networking, it often takes a specific commitment by the job seeker. This is so that certain skills can be gained prior to being considered qualified as a job candidate. As such, IT professionals can go down a certain career path without ever truly knowing what the job role is like on a day-to-day basis. To help shed some light on this subject, we’ll present what a typical network administrator’s job role involves, including tasks, benefits, and potential drawbacks.

Connectivity, connectivity, connectivity

The number one responsibility of a network administrator is to ensure connectivity to apps and services. This not only includes network connectivity to the internet, WAN locations, data centers, and clouds – but also ensuring that access-layer ports, cabling, and wireless access points are in sound operational order. In many cases, entry-level network administrators will focus solely on troubleshooting end-user connectivity problems, including the repair of broken Ethernet jacks in offices and cubicles, as well as verifying (and oftentimes, reverifying) that Wi-Fi is operating optimally across a building or campus. Network administrators must be prepared to wear comfortable shoes each and every day because this role requires a significant amount of work in the field.

Network security

Cybersecurity tools are often placed directly on the corporate network and therefore are commonly managed by network administrators. This includes components such as firewalls, IPS/IDS, network detection and response (NDR), data loss prevention (DLP) systems, and VPN concentrators. More recently, architectures such as secure access services edge (SASE) are also being handed to network administrators to manage. While cybersecurity policy and incident responses are generally handled by IT security staff, the ongoing maintenance and support of network security platforms ultimately falls under the purview of the network team.

Traffic monitoring and alerting

Network administrators use a number of tools to gain visibility into the health and performance of the corporate network. Tools range from basic SNMP monitoring platforms to more complex deep packet inspection (DPI) tools that incorporate machine learning and artificial intelligence. Administrators are responsible for configuring incident or threshold-based alerts that notify the network team when a performance issue is occurring. Staff must then work to identify the root cause of the issue and fix it as quickly as possible. If upgrades are required to permanently fix an issue, administrators must be knowledgeable enough to suggest what hardware, software, or services will resolve a particular problem.

95% planning and 5% execution

Network administrators are also responsible for replacing aging network equipment or expanding the network LAN, WAN, cloud, or edge when necessary. Because of the impact on business operations, a tremendous amount of planning must take place to ensure that an equipment replacement or new build-out is executed quickly and accurately the very first time. Because of this, prospective administrators must be aware that the time spent working on network integrations will be up to 95% planning and preparing for the upgrade/install and only 5% of the time spent performing the physical work. Additionally, expect maintenance windows for network-related tasks to be performed on weekends and/or after normal business hours to cause the least amount of business disruption.

Always on call and under suspicion

Speaking of working odd hours, perhaps the biggest pet peeve of a network administrator is that they are often on call around the clock. While larger organizations may have a rotating on-call schedule, most senior administrators understand that they could receive a network performance or network-down emergency at any moment that only they can address.

In addition to that, network administrators must build up a thick skin when it comes to their work. Any sort of application or service performance problem incurred within the organization will inevitably lead to one or more network administrators having to prove that it’s not a network problem – but instead an issue somewhere further up the stack. This is an issue that will continuously crop up. Thus, administrators should be prepared to prove without a shadow of a doubt that “it’s not the network.”

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About the Author(s)

Andrew Froehlich, President, West Gate Networks

President, West Gate Networks

As a highly experienced network architect and trusted IT consultant with worldwide contacts, particularly in the United States and Southeast Asia, Andrew Froehlich has nearly two decades of experience and possesses multiple industry certifications in the field of enterprise networking. Froehlich has participated in the design and maintenance of networks for State Farm Insurance, United Airlines, Chicago-area schools and the University of Chicago Medical Center. He is the founder and president of Loveland, Colo.-based West Gate Networks, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and data center build outs. The author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex, he is a regular contributor to multiple enterprise IT related websites and trade journals with insights into rapidly changing developments in the IT industry.

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