Article

Five Top Questions About System Administrators

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Sandi Jerome - Also by this author

A few years ago, your system administrator was probably the parts manager or controller. They would backup the system and maybe load some update tapes. Support was provided by your in-house computer system provider and the most complicated thing they might have to do is replace a CRT’s video board.
 
Today, dealerships are a maze of networked computers, factory DCS PCs, third-party software, integrated phone systems, and web sites. Less than 10 percent of dealerships have system administrators, but many are considering hiring one in the next year. These are the most common questions we hear:

1. Do you need a dedicated system administrator? It’s an easy question to answer – if you have a network (LAN or WAN,) then yes - you need a system administrator.

2. What should be more important – the in-house system or the network? The first responsibility of a system administrator is to keep the network up and secure. One of the items that should not be their responsibility is supporting the in-house computer system software. That should be done via the 800 number that is provided by the computer vender. Every employee should be trained in how to call support and get their questions answered – that’s what you pay the big bucks for. The users on the network need to have access to their authorized resources and the bad guys need to be kept out of the network. As this need is met on a day-to-day basis, the rest of the work is monitoring and optimization. The optimization means saving time for both the users and the administrator. The network should run as fast as your budget allows so that users spend more time using the resources instead of waiting for them to come over the wire.

3. I have a system administrator but he's always busy - what can be done to make his job easier? Saving time for the administrator can be done with the help of users and automated features in software. If another employee is showing some interest, then it might be a good idea to make them a print operator, handling minor printing problems, or an account manager to work with user accounts. This could take some simple daily tasks from the administrator like password problems or print spooler fixes; not to mention the print device issues like paper, ink, etc. In NT and 2000 Server there are some nice features to save time and hassle for an administrator. DHCP is a dynamic IP assigning service that will also send other information to clients such as DNS server addresses. Without DHCP, much time can be spent entering this all in by hand. Of course once a network is running fast and secure, monitoring will be essential to keep it that way. Again in NT and 2000 Server there are some great tools for keeping track of performance and security issues. You can create logs daily to have a timeline on various objects. These are just small examples of ways software configuration can make an administrators work a bit easier. Periodically, network hardware can be looked at for speed and security improvements. Most have upgraded cables, NIC's, and switches to 100mbps, but gigabit rates are just around the corner. Good documentation and logging will tell you when this upgrade is needed.

4. I don’t have a system administrator yet – how can I find one? One of the best places is the local MCSE program at your community college. The Microsoft certification program prepares students for network administration and often includes Internet and basic PC repairs. If you live in a high tech metro area, you might have to offer over $50,000 a year to woo these students away from the “big boy” tech companies. Training a system administrator is another matter. If you decide to hire from within, then you might want to help pay for one of the self-study MCSE certification programs available via the Internet like www.transcender.com or www.smartplanet.com.

5. What items should be included on my system administrator’s job description? In addition to the responsibilities mentioned above, these are a few things that are often overlooked:

  • Develop employee security for your network. I’m amazed to find that on many dealership networks that the sales manager’s workstation can access files on the server that are considered confidential including the dealer’s e-mail files.
  • Create a firewall to prevent outside intruders. With the conversion from dialup Internet to DSL, ISDN, and T1 access – this means that you’re always connected to the Internet. That also means that others are connected to you and they can come on in and either delete, read or insert viruses into files on your server.
  • Create a training program for your other employees. The sooner that the employees learn how to use Word, Outlook, your in-house system, and third-party software, the sooner you’ll start getting value for the money you paid for these products.
  • Upgrade and maintain the network. It’s a very low-cost upgrade from 10 mbps cabling, cards and hubs to 100 mbps. Installing anti-virus software can save you thousands of hours of restore costs. Inserting a larger hard drive can prevent employees from deleting valuable files to make room for new information.
  • Establish an Internet and personal computer use policy. If you don’t want your employees playing games or browsing the Internet, then you need to have your system administrator either restrict access or remove the software you don’t want employees to use.
  • Organize a single technology manual that contains a copy of the service agreements, contracts, wiring diagrams, logging reports, support numbers and specifications for all your technology.

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