The Convergence of the Sysadmin Roles

With the convergence of networking and shared storage into compute, we’re seeing a pretty unique transition from a professional skills standpoint, that has been a fairly slow adoption curve. My take on the matter in regards to why HCI and SDN has been slow to adopt is predominantly because it involves people and updating of skill sets. Let’s take a look at a comparative example. To illustrate this point, lets look at a non-technical example. If you’re building a house, you definitely need these three roles:

  1. Carpenter
  2. Plumber
  3. Electrician

carpenter plumber electrician

Each of these roles:

  • Has a skill that has been learned over time, usually more than 3 years.
  • Is typically well defined in scope.
  • Is related to, but not solely dependent upon knowledge of one another.
  • Has knowledge of what’s basically going on with the others, but not in-depth knowledge.

So imagine what would happen if I walked up to a team of the above subcontractors that were going to work together on a construction project, and told them:

OK, you guys I need to install a new kind of walls that are prebuilt frames, with pipes and electric cable already run inside.

Well, that’s probably going to cause a lot of grief initially. Why? Because the plumber may have issues with how he’s going to hook up to pre-run pipes, because the electrician is going to have to splice a wire run in rather than a home-run to the panel, and the carpenter has nothing to do but bolt it to the ground. Any way you slice it, it might seem that it is removing a big part of their value.

If you haven’t figured it out already, the analogy I’m drawing here is to the:

  1. Carpenter – Compute/Server Sysadmin
  2. Plumber – Network Administrator
  3. Electrician – Storage Administrator

Also, the new building blocks are representative of HCI with SDN.

A big point that is missed here is that the value of these new building blocks is NOT, to the construction crew. The value of these new building blocks is to the customer, who can get much better time to value and reduce complexity by converging the architecture. Now, the illustration doesn’t completely work, because pre-built walls, come on, that really wouldn’t work. But it does apply to technology stacks.

So what’s the real barrier to success?

What if you told an electrician he would suddenly have to learn carpentry and plumbing? There’s definitely going to be some pushback. Same has been true with HCI in IT shops, those who are protective of their role and skill are typically barriers to change of any kind, but especially one which has potential to reduce their relevance if they do not retool their own personal skillsets. Like it or not, this is the cloud engineer of the future. The roles are converging simply to follow the trends which are providing a return the ultimate customer, the business. If the business sees that they get a faster return with consolidated technology, the technologists must follow this trend and start to branch into the other areas of expertise.


So what’s the point of this post?

As a consultant of 5 years who was a sysadmin for 7 years, my advice to Sysadmins is to stay relevant or prepare to die on the vine of your beholden technology alignment. Unlike the carpentry, plumbing and electrician industries, the technology industry seems to turn itself on its head every 5 years.



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