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A computer network is a system between two or more computers and peripheral devices allowing them to communicate with each other, and share information. A network administrator takes care of the computer software and hardware that make up the computer network. This includes deploying, configuring, maintaining and monitoring the active network equipment in the company. On the other hand, a systems administrator is someone who is responsible for the servers themselves. A system administrator is responsible for setting up and maintaining the system. The system administrator is concerned with server security, databases, and email exchange. Network and system administrators work closely together to maximize the performance of the entire infrastructure (Limoncelli, Hogan & Chalup, 2007).
Duties of a System Administrator
A system administrator is tasked with the duty of setting up and maintaining the system. The responsibilities of a system administrator range widely, and vary from one company to another; they include installing and upgrading system software like the kernel, managing disk space and user accounts. A system administrator is also responsible for supporting and maintaining servers and other computer systems, responding to and planning for service outages. Duties of a system administrator may also include project management for systems related projects, scripting, and light programming (Limoncelli, Hogan & Chalup, 2007).
The system administrator uses the root account to apply changes to the system. The root account has full access to the system; this means that the person using the root account can do anything with the system. The root account user can also remove critical system files. If one deletes these files by mistake, there is no way to recover them, except maybe if one had used a tape backup (Easttom, 2011).
If a server or a workstation is down, a system administrator should be able to diagnose the problem in the shortest time possible. The system administrator must be capable of figuring out what the problem is and the ways to fix it to minimize system downtime.
Duties of a Network Administrator
A network administrator is responsible for ensuring that the network is functioning properly. The functions of a network administrator include security between servers, firewall maintenance, traffic control, internet and intranet (external and internal) management. Network administrators also ensure that backups and zone transfers are done effectively so that different branches of a company work efficiently (Limoncelli, Hogan & Chalup, 2007).
International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is the association of telecommunications companies all over the world. ITU members have defined a succession of recommendations describing how Telecommunications Management Network (TMN) should be operated. ITU member countries have accepted a model of management functions that offers a structure to enhance understanding of the responsibilities of a network administrator. The model is known as the FCAPS model; the initials represent the major functions (Fault-management, configuration, accounting, performance, and security).
Any network management task can be categorized into one of the management functions. Some examples include the following: plugging in a patch-lead after it has been disconnected can be referred to as fault management, assigning an IP address to a network interface card is a configuration management task, and configuring firewall on the network is a security management task.
Thinking about the functions of FCAPS, it is clear that this model could be equally useful to the role of a system administrator. This is indeed true. The difference between the network administrator and the system administrator is not necessarily in what they do, but it is in what they do it for.
Description and Functions of FCAPS in a Network and System Admin
A fault has a negative effect on the significance of a network. The aim of fault management is to identify, segregate, correct, and log faults that occur in a network. Fault management uses trend analysis to foresee errors so that the network is available most of the time. The Administrator accomplishes this by monitoring different aspects for abnormal performance. Fault management may also be used in system administration.
The goals of configuration management include gathering and storing configuration files from network devices like routers, which may be done locally or remotely. Configuration management in system administration may include storing the program code that was written when developing the system. Configuration management also simplifies the configuration of the device, and tracks changes made to the configuration. It also provides circuits and paths through networks that are not switched, and plans for future scaling and expansion of the network.
Accounting management is also referred to as billing management. The aim is to collect usage statistics for network users and servers in the case of system administration. The statistics collected may be used to bill the users accordingly, and usage quota may be imposed. Examples of usage statistics include disk usage, link utilization, and CPU time.
Performance management allows the network and system administrators to prepare the systems for future needs, and to determine the competence of the current infrastructure relative to the initial set up investments done. The network and system performance management also addresses the percentage utilization, throughput, response times, and error rates (Easttom, 2011).
The network and system strength is determined by gathering and analyzing performance data. Trends can indicate reliability and capacity issues before they can affect the quality of service. Performance thresholds may also be set in order to trigger an alarm if the threshold is exceeded. If an alarm is triggered, it is handled by the standard fault management process described. Alarms may vary depending on the level of the problem severity (Easttom, 2011).
Security management involves controlling access to assets in a network or a system. Data security is mainly achieved through encryption, authentication, and access control lists. The network administrator controls network components like network IP addresses, protocols used, and the network interfacing gadgets. The network administrator also controls routing, assignment of TCP and UDP socket, and name resolution, because these are important networking components. These are fairly low level functions from an application point of view (Limoncelli, Hogan & Chalup, 2007).
Conflict between the Duties of a System and a Network Admin
In many security models, for example the Linux security model, it is mandatory that the root user possess a root password in order to have privileges to configure any of these settings. One must have root privileges to be able configure IP address filtering, network interfaces, add and delete routes, traffic prioritization, and address translation. In Linux systems, the administrator might have to rebuild a kernel so as to achieve network administration; this is a potential conflict with the system administrator, since it requires the same level of system privileges to do the network administration work. This can obscure security procedures and make the management of changes in the system complicated. Most companies rely on trust, hoping that nobody does the wrong thing. A possible solution to this conflict is to have an access control list; this will ensure that the kernel function calls are only executed by the network administrators. This, however, will necessitate major kernel changes.
Another conflict is about the low-level types of applications, which include web servers, mail transport agents, NIS, NFS, and SNMP daemons. Who should take the responsibility of configuring those? These are network applications. In many large companies, these applications, with the possible exclusion of SNMP daemon, are managed by the system administrator, and not the network administrator. This usually due to the fact that these applications do not directly affect the ability of the host computer when communicating on the network; thus, they are not directly network related. They may be said to be applications of the network, without necessarily being applications for the network (Easttom, 2011).
Between the duties of a system administrator and a network administrator, there is an intersection of skills. A network administrator can do some system administration work while setting up a network. A system administrator has enough knowledge to set up the IP addresses of a network gear including routers and computers. Network administrator will have knowledge of network equipments; for example, Juniper and Cisco. Network administrators are also able to manage servers and databases (Limoncelli, Hogan & Chalup, 2007).
Network administrators usually work with networking gear like routers, switches, hubs and cables. They ensure that data is communicated from one computer to another. System administrators are mainly concerned with the actual computer system and programs on them, rather than the wiring or the configuration of network equipments.
Depending on the complexity of the technology used and the size of a company, a system and a network administrator's job may range from twelve hours each week to full-time. It usually depends on the company size. Small companies sometimes employ only one person to serve as a system and network administrator. In large companies, it is important to distinguish between network administration and system administration. Larger companies tend to have greater differences between a network administrator and a system administrator. This is because the system administrator deals only with the servers while the network admin deals with the network. If a company is smaller, then these duties may fall onto the hands of the same persons.
In a working environment, there is no connection between job responsibility and title in different companies, a network administrator in one company might be employed as a system administrator in another in terms of job specifications and responsibility (Easttom, 2011).