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A day in the life of a data center admin

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We recently celebrated System Administrator Appreciation Day, to recognise the valuable work of IT technicians who keep our businesses running. This got me thinking. We need to recognise the performance of staff across the IT chain. 

For example, what does the schedule of a data centre admin look like? I think data centre administrators will recognize the following story. Every data centre role brings a new set of challenges. But what might tomorrow look like when?

a day in the life of a data center admin

A day in the life of a system admin
[SPOILER ALERT: this never happens]

Source: Veeam

Expect the unexpected

It would be great to be able to plan (see picture). But unfortunately, as we all know in IT, unexpected things can happen. This is a more realistic snapshot of the life of a data centre administrator:

You get a message that one of the business critical services went down and the automatic failover system didn’t work. You log on to the VPN system from home and try to figure out what went wrong. After reviewing the logs you notice there’s an issue with the disks that hold your data and that this is a ‘single point of failure’ in your business continuity system, so you make a mental note to map a project to solve this.

You remotely recover data from the last backup and restore it to a different location as a temporary solution, until the disks are fixed. You log a ticket with the service desk so engineers to contact the hardware vendor for replacement disks.

You arrive at the office to start the working day you planned. Unfortunately, it seems the failure has already reached the business owner, who’s called an urgent meeting with the executives of your company to review the issues. You’re expected to explain it at 09.00. You start prepping all the relevant information.

The Head of Accounts walks into your office requesting you set up a laptop for a new starter that’s already in the office – he’s asking you because apparently the service desk takes too long. You still create the ticket and make it an urgent one, following up with a phone call to your mate to issue a new laptop ASAP. Luckily the whole team has this down to a fine art, so it shouldn’t take too long.

You head to the meeting; the first 20 minutes is spent with the business owner ranting about how much money’s been lost with this outage. He suggests you ‘go to the cloud’ because he’s read this can’t happen there. Finally, you’re able to cut in with the facts, how it can be solved and the budget necessary to roll it out. You leave out the fact that you’ve said this hundreds of times before. Instead you make it clear that availability should be the core of any data and backup solution decisions. You leave the meeting saddled with all the actions and with the instruction that ‘no budget’ is preferred.

You catch up with the service desk because you missed the daily 10.00 meeting. They assure you everything’s under control.

You leave the meeting saddled with all the actions and with the instruction that ‘no budget’ is preferred.

You start working on the project proposal but immediately get disturbed because a team leader requested more home drive space and the service desk denied the request. The exec doesn’t understand that for less than £100 they could buy a one terabyte disk. It takes you over half an hour to explain the difference between his home and work file servers. He still doesn’t agree and says he’ll escalate it further. Oh, joy!

You try to crack on with your workload but notice the service desk dashboard’s flagging up a request over the agreed service level agreement. You call the service desk manager to investigate, and learn that a service desk engineer’s already lost two hours recovering a single email because the user can’t remember exactly what the subject is, and when they deleted it. You make a mental note (again) to action the email recovery self-service project.

It’s lunchtime, but you still have 20+ emails – all flagged urgent – that landed in your inbox while you were in meetings. You grab the least offensive looking sandwich from the shop next door, eat at your desk and get your head down.

staff woman person in data center people health and safety thinkstock photos agnormark

Source: Thinkstock / agnormark

You are an asset!

The point here is that there are always fires to fight as a data centre administrator. Unforeseen tasks will crop up and requests will override workflows. The phrase there aren’t enough hours in a day is laughably applicable in the IT world.

These things can’t be solved by IT or software alone. Management software, availability software and monitoring software are important, but they’ll only work when you have internal alignment. It’s essential to have understanding throughout the business that these are vital to daily running.

In too many organisations the IT department is still viewed as one that doesn’t impact revenue. Instead, it should be seen as a strategic asset for the business; it’s only when the senior leadership team and IT make decisions together that improvements to business IT services with real impact will take place.

All hail the data centre admin.

Mike Resseler is a product strategy specialist at Veeam Software

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