A VIEW FROM THE (NON) CORNER OFFICE: Programmers, You Need the Sysadmin. And Vice Versa.

By: Matthew Porter

Programmers, You Need the Sysadmin. And Vice Versa.

In honor of System Administrator Appreciation Day, I decided to revisit an article from last year regarding the role of system administrators in the world of cloud computing. At Contegix, system administrators (our engineers) make up the overwhelming majority of our staff. Employing a significant engineering staff is a necessity as a provider. They are responsible for delivering hosting and cloud solutions to our customers. The article addresses the question of whether system administrators are needed when there is no physical or network infrastructure.

In October 2009, George Reese wrote an article for O’Reilly Community titled “Your Cloud Needs a Sys Admin”. The article discusses how and why system administrators are still needed, even in the age of cloud computing. George breaks it down to a simple point—divide responsibilities based upon skill sets and knowledge.

System administrators have had the role of hardware procurement removed in the world of cloud computing. This is a huge benefit as it is often (but not always) mind numbing work for most administrators. They are now allowed to focus on where they can deliver the highest value — the development and long term maintenance of the application infrastructure. (No one buys a dedicated or cloud server to receive pings back. It’s always been about the applications!) Specifically, this represents the planning of application infrastructure, reducing risks and liability in it, and managing infrastructure across the ever changing landscape of application, user, and environment requirements.

If George is right, as we believe he is, I think we could see the overall evolution and expansion of what defines cloud computing. In reality, cloud computing is outsourcing at its core definition. A company outsources a portion or all of their Internet infrastructure requirements to another company specializing specifically in it. The system administrator outsources the procurement of infrastructure to a company specializing in its delivery. This is a physical outsourcing. Yet, what is the next step?

Our belief is that the outsourcing will extend beyond just the infrastructure into the system administration of the infrastructure and application stack. For Contegix, this represents the promise of our managed services — delivered for dedicated infrastructure as Beyond Managed Hosting and for cloud infrastructure as Cloud Cover. We often see this as a blend of our customers’ system administration team and our system administrators. We work together to supplement and compliment the other party, and both parties dive deeper and take responsibility for the application stack. It also allows our customers to focus on their core business.

I think there is also another important, overlooked point in the article. System administrators need developers. System administrators are great at writing scripts and programs to make their lives easier. Yet, system administrators are not specialists at building the applications. At Contegix, we follow the same principle in often using outsourced development blended with some internal development.

At the time the article was published, we had just launched our public cloud offering. This represented our first step into a platform that allowed customers to decide whether they wanted unmanaged or managed. I remember reading the article and wondering how this would be reflected in our cloud. Today, cloud computing with our Cloud Cover represents a double digit percentage of our cloud offering.