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March 1992

Network administrators: what they do, why you need them.

by Luczak, Mark

    Abstract- Network administrators are vital to the continued efficiency of computer workstations, network servers, and desktop computers of organizations. In small-scale organizations, systems managers may also function as local area network (LAN) adminstrators. In companies with a large organizational structure, and hence a large computer network, the functions of the network manager and the LAN adminstrator may be designated to different personnel who are both part of management informations systems department. Among the designated tasks of LAN adminstrators are the installation of new file servers and workstations, LAN troubleshooting, periodic backups for servers and workstations, upgrade of existing software, administration of file and network security, and management of electronic mail. Suggestions on planning network management are provided.

Like their older, larger mainframe and minicomputer brethren in corporate centers, local area networks (LANs) and desktop PCs in today's organizations also need "someone to watch over them."

In fact, these group, department and enterprise-oriented network servers and workstations need designated caretakers even more. The people who use this equipment are not likely to have the expertise, time, or resources to manage the information systems they work with and depend on.

Downsizing, departmental LAN computing, and other changes in organizational computing have made network computing a routine and essential part of the daily operation of business-from law and accounting firms, sales branches, medical groups and administrative departments, to retail and manufacturing offices, not to mention typewriters and hand calculators.

Yet, trained professionals administer LANs at only a handful of organizations where LANs are critical to business. Typically, the person in charge is non-technical office support staff who has been handed a manual to study.

The combination of high technology and low skills creates techno-time bombs, ticking like the crocodile in Peter Pan. Aside from the prospect of outright disaster, simply keeping a LAN working is not necessarily the same as keeping it "working well."

A LAN administrator-or network or system administrator, operator or manager-is the person responsible for the server and user portion of LAN.

In smaller organizations, which may have, for example, several interconnected LANs, possibly from different vendors and based on different technologies, the LAN administrator may also be the network manager.

In an organization large enough to have network management and operations, LAN administration falls under the heading Of systems administration. MIS (management information systems) or network management/operations. But, no matter what the title or department, someone skilled should be responsible for daily and long-term operations, maintenance and management of your organization's LANs.

* While the specific job description for managers will be slightly different for each organization, common responsibilities incIude:

* Install and configure new LAN servers and user workstations;

* Perform and manage regular backups for LAN server and user workstation file systems, help users recover lost or deleted files;

* Provide basic LAN management and troubleshooting, using tools like cable break detectors, a network protocol analyzer, and network management software;

* Install new and upgraded application and utility software, like word processing, spreadsheets and e-mail;

* Administer User accounts (add, change, configure), e-mail address lists and printer names;

* Provide or coordinate user support, training and help; and

* Implement network and file security, accounting and management.

* managers also often get involved in planning for network capacity, technology and capabilities. This means everything from evaluating new products to deciding on new network storage alternatives.

A good LAN manager, as many organizations discover to their pleasant surprise, can also add value and cost-effectiveness to the operation by:

* Researching and putting in faster, more effective backup systems;

* Providing easy-to-use on-screen menus so that inexperienced users have easy direct access to applications; and

* Suggesting new applications that help users get 'their jobs done more efficiently and effectively.

Many organizations report that having a LAN administrator makes an immense improvement in the reliability and quality of network computing service, even more than they anticipated when they decided to create the position. The initial surge in budget is often quickly recouped in staff productivity and reductions in LAN operating costs.

There are several ways to provide LAN administration:

* If your organization has 50 or more workstations and servers. and your network has frequent changes, you probably need someone full-time;

* If your I*N administrative needs are less demanding, designate LAN management as a part-time responsibility for one individual, but also identify a back-up person;

* Inquire about administrative service from the supplier you bought your LAN systems from;

* Contract for regular and emergency tAN management services from one of the growing number of third-party independent contract houses. This approach is often ideal for small and new user groups, who may not want to rely on a vendor, and whose tANs need only routine backup and administrative updates-say, a half-day per week. A bonus: valuable peace of mind, knowing that a LAN expert is only a phone call away.

Good User = Better Administration

Users are the other half of the LAN management equation. If, for example, your organization runs a fleet of delivery vehicles, you expect drivers and others to be aware of and report symptoms like the oil or generator lights coming on, or clanking sounds, or huge black clouds of smoke. Similarly, the computer users on your network should work with LAN administrators:

* Read basic training materials and company policies;

* Understand basic computer concerns such as security and appropriate usage;

* Know their LAN operations and "help" contacts;

* Know what the LAN administrator does and can help with, for example, recover files;

* Report problems, error messages, outages or unusual computer behaviors immediately; and

* Learn how to use documentation and on-line help.

In turn, make it part of your LAN administrator's responsibility to be available to users, including regular "what's new" updates and new user orientation.

Together, your users and your LAN administrator can help your organization's LANs be what they are meant to be-a well-run, valuable, reliable tool in your business.

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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