The Cloud: System Administrator vs. Network Administrator – who wins?

The Cloud and Server Consolidation - Network Administrator vs. Systems Administrator

The Cloud: System Administrator vs. Network Administrator – who wins?

One of my friends told me once, he uses a small little secret to tell whether
a person he is talking to, is a network administrator or a system administrator.

He would ask them to tell him the details of most important computer in their network.
If the answer was something like “” he would know this is a
system administrator and if the answer looked like “” then
a network administrator.

Well, why would it be important to know this?

It seems each one belongs to a different technological and emotional world.

Network Administrators deal with cabling, ISP pricing, physical limitations of the equipment
as well as the nature of geography. They live in the world of small bits that serve a massive operation.

System Administrators deal with users, applications, operating systems, databases.

Sure, both System Administrators and Network Administrators care about
all of those components, but their daily activity and focus is different.

Maybe one analogy could be describing the computing environment
as if it is a car. We could then claim the System Administrator
would be driving the car which the Network Administrator has built.

And this difference in the world view, can cause friction.

I have seen many cases in the past 27 years where the network administrator team
was almost at war against the system administrator team and vice versa.

Publicly the arguments were about uncontrolled bandwidth usage (said the
network administrator) vs. user needs and computing power that require
the proportional network capacity.

Of course there were other topics on board, but we’ll summarize it by
saying, many times the user would feel like the abandoned kid of
a couple that are going through divorce – as in the movie “Kramer vs. Kramer”.

The Cloud presents a huge need for computer systems as well as networks.

Looking at the cloud implementation I am involved in, one of the main subjects
is how to provide seamless and quick access to the data and applications on systems
running in many different locations.

One very prominent need is for additional Network Capacity.
The whole Server Consolidation game actually means that users will
need to go through the Wide Area Network to get the same service they
were getting locally.

So the system administrator would be asking for additional network bandwidth
while the network administrator would be asking for process optimization, pointing
to the considerable cost of the WAN and the physical and geographic limitations
while trying to push more data via the WAN.

Who do you think will or should win this battle?
What are your major networking challenges?

How can both system administrators and

network administrators find the path to the

solutions for server consolidation the challenges of the cloud


  • What if.. one has to be both in a small-medium company?

    Yep that’s me! I get my hands on the actual cables.. shit I even put the cables I stapled trough 3 floors down to the server room.. I need to make changes on the DSCP QoS table of several switches from time to time, or even our MikroTik!

    But I also have to install Debian on some servers, configure Asterisk PBX (dam’n dialplans); configure mail servers; or implement bash/php scripts for whatever!

    If somebody asked me about the most important machine I would provide a description like “the web server” or “voip server”, but if some colleague asks, its .30 or .25!

  • JackFlash

    My friend,

    I have been in this situation several times…
    It could be demanding, but it can be very powerful to have several realms of knowledge
    tools under your belt…
    Glad to have met you and keep in touch.
    I’ll be sharing what’s up with my own journey into the cloud (Hybrid one).



  • Vikas Deolaliker

    It depends on who win? Virtual Network or Physical Network. If virtual network win, the sysadmin wins or more accurately, DevOps wins.

  • Tuzla

    @cusco U’r my man 🙂
    That is same job description as mine, and I just can’t imagine how sysadmins and netadmins can be in war?!?

  • Brian Vaughan

    In the O’Reilly texts I’ve studied, on my own and for courses, the distinction between system administration and network administration seemed to amount to, at most, a slight distinction in emphasis, on software or on hardware. I’ve found that to be true with job descriptions when applying for jobs: the distinction is a subtle shift of emphasis, and there’s so much overlap in the skills and job duties involved that “system administrator” and “network administrator” are effectively synonyms.

    From what I can see of the current state of the industry, in small operations, there are just one or two people with such a title and job duties, and in large operations, there’s a much more complex and finer-grained differentiation between a longer list of job categories, with network design, software design, hardware maintenance, and end-user support handled by separate corporations. It seems like there is only a narrow band of enterprises in which there are distinct “system administrator” and “network administrator” positions.

  • JackFlash

    Hey Brian,

    I think your findings do match reality in most cases…
    I think that the main conflict, here is actually between:

    1) The need to run all the applications you need with no regards to their effect on the network,
    expecting the network will do the job.
    2) The reasoning in requiring that processes should be optimized to match WAN and LAN realities,
    before they are deployed and maybe at the planning phase.

    The cause for application bandwidth issues may be based on the fact that we find
    it hard to deal with something we can’t visualize.
    There is no application builder tool that shows you the expected network efficiency
    of the network as you write the application (or is there 🙂 )