Posted by: Adam Deane | 12/04/2010

The Holy System Administrator

system administratorOur system administrator managed to lose all of my emails. Not one email – all of them! … Bless him…
Not everyone can lose a whole account of emails.
It takes a special kind of talent.

Backup? Of course he did a backup. He backups twice a day. The problem is… he can’t restore the backup.
In his defence, I’ll say that after the disaster he spent 3 days and 3 nights trying to fix the problem.
He doesn’t do these things on purpose. He really has a good heart. Things just happen to him all the time…

But he does give me a good point of reference of what to expect at customer sites.

No workflow design or project prep ever includes the “System Administrator”.
Sometimes I’m lucky, and the system administrator is an experienced, professional and enthusiastic young lad that has a huge influence on the project, helping with integration, removing bottlenecks and being the bulldozer to clear the way for me.

The first stage of every project usually includes product installation.
This is usually the first contact with the customer’s system administrator.
This is when the system administrator lays down his rules and policies.
This is also when he gets his first impression of the system. His word means a lot.
If the installation goes smoothly, the introduction to the product was clear and the administration tasks (mainly backups) given to him are straight forward – his view of the product will be positive, the feedback that he will pass on to the managers will be positive and any future requests that will be asked from him (for example: opening up a new user account) will be dealt without any hassle.

On the other hand, if the installation is long, there are many manual scripts to run, there is no introduction to the product and the administration tasks are vague – then the system administration will make your life miserable, his feedback to the managers (first impression) will be negative, he will be defensive and unsupportive throughout the whole project.

The system administration is driven by a need for system stability.
It’s an ungrateful job. No-one will compliment if the system works nicely, but they will get yelled at if there is a glitch in the system.
They don’t have any say or budget to buy the hardware they require, and they need to deal with the current infrastructure the best they can.
They are a friendly brunch and great to work with, but live under constant fear and paranoia.

I think the worst experience I ever had was with a government system administrator.
He sent me a requirements document to fill in (14 pages long).
Five weeks later, I arrived to find that nothing was ready (SQL Server 2000 instead of SQL Server 2005, no access to the server….) Aaaahhh!

In a lot of projects, the organisation’s system administration is done by a third party, or by system administrators in a remote office..etc.
On one hand it means that no one will interfere or look over your shoulder at the time. On the other hand it means it’s up to you to do all the work.
During the years I’ve learnt to be a part time system administrator.
Installing SharePoint? Not a problem.
Changing IIS setting – Piece of cake.
Setting up reporting services? I can do it in my sleep.

System Administrator’s hold the key to the city. They can make or break your project. They can be your worst nightmare or your holy guardian angel…

These are my tips when working with system administrators:
• Have a document with screenshots ready with all of the product installation steps.
• Have a document with the hardware requirements and deployment requirements.
• Have a document with all the required administration tasks (mainly backups).
• Before installation, give the system administrator an overview of what is the product and what is being deployed.
• Let them install the product.
• Compliment them on the way the company infrastructure is managed under tough conditions.


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