Thursday, May 29, 2008

You're not just a systems administrator

In my younger days as an assistant network administrator, I would always be assisting my superior in retooling some part of the network. Upgrading or reinstalling a system here, rewiring a switch there. I always felt like we were doing these things for nothing. I mean, here we were working when we could be doing nothing, or even better, playing games on the LAN.

I always followed along, and gradually started doing it on my own, too. I learned the meaning of the old saying "a stitch in time saves nine". It's a good thing, because it wouldn't be too long before I was responsible for the network myself.

A year or so later, I was fixing something that broke, and an idea dawned on me. My role was more than running the network, it was actually being part of the network. Sure I administered it, built it out, and repaired it, but that's the point, really. By performing these actions, you cease to be a separate entity. You're part of the system.

When that occurred to me, I realized that my stated goal within the system was to provide homeostasis. A computer network is not a biological organism, and therefore cannot (yet) provide for it's own regulation. That's where we come in.

I don't make much distinction between systems and the network. Sure, in most places, there are systems administrators and network administrators. Sys admins fix operating systems, software installations, and computer hardware issues, and network administrators fix the parts that connect everyone together, but they're both part of the bigger picture.

The infrastructure is, for all intents and purposes, a non-biological entity. It can get sick, parts can fail, and it requires action to return to balance. We're the homeostasis. We're the part that corrects inbalances, and if the system is large and complex enough, we specialize into teams, each dedicated to keeping the entity living, breathing, and healthy.

Food for thought the next time a hard drive dies at 3am