System administrator vs. cloud administrator
For many first entering the IT field, the whole endeavor may come off as overwhelming at first. There are many good directions you can take your career in, and most are determined by your interests, passion and natural talent. Among these positions, many find that they want to become an administrator but are not quite sure which flavor of administrator is right for them.
This article will detail two of the most common flavors of administrator — system administrator and cloud administrator. These two different positions are often the entry point into the subfield of administration. You will learn about each role, what they do, what the prerequisites are and more.
For those too short on time to read the whole article, I will include a key takeaway section that will serve as a shorthand reference for the differences between the two roles.
What exactly does a system administrator do? Questions like this are probably on your mind if you are considering this role for the first time. We will explore many of these questions in the overview of the system administrator role below.
System administrator does not have any prerequisites per se. However, there are some common skills that those holding this role generally have. I would go so far to say that the more of these you have under your belt, the more successful you will likely be in scoring this job.
- Bachelor’s degree: Many organizations prefer candidates with bachelor’s degrees, preferably in computer science or related disciplines
- Certifications: CompTIA A+ and Network+ are a good starting point
- Professional experience: There is no minimum amount of experience, but many have at least 3–5 years of related professional IT experience
System administrators generally are tasked with installing, configuring, maintaining and supporting computer systems and servers. Your skill set will be put to the test in this position as the amount of responsibilities on your plate are wide-ranging, to say the least. While your responsibilities will naturally differ based upon the organization and their unique demands, you will generally be responsible for the following:
- System implementation
- System maintenance
- Managing server environments, including Windows
- Updating systems when new OS versions and system patches become available
- Project management
- Light scripting (e.g., automation and startup scripts)
- Light coding
- User administration
- Creating group policy and backup/restore policy
Who is looking for system administrators?
Organizations of all sizes in all industries look for system administrators. The easiest ways to find out who specifically is looking for system administrators are to check Internet job boards, network and look at company websites in their career section. If you are fortunate enough to know of a company forming, you will find that startups normally need help with system administration.
Cloud administrators only have some superficial similarities to system administrators. These include installation/implementation, configuring and supporting a system, but as you can already tell, cloud administrators perform these responsibilities on a cloud-based system.
This role is viewed as a sort of evolution of the traditional storage administrator role, although an organization may have need for both a cloud administrator and a storage administrator. Whether your organization has merged both roles or not will be defined in its cloud strategy.
The specifics of the cloud administrator role can be found below.
Like system administrator, there is no set-in-stone path to becoming a cloud administrator. However, there is a major notable difference — you must have a high-level understanding of cloud computing and specialized cloud knowledge. Some common traits cloud administrators have include:
- Bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related discipline
- At least three years of experience working with cloud computing and related work experience — related roles include cloud analyst
- Certifications: ComptTIA Cloud+, Professional Cloud Administrator (hosted by the Cloud Credential Council) and proprietary certifications, including Azure and AWS
Cloud administrators have two main job responsibilities — configure the cloud management service and manage/monitor the cloud management service. If the cloud administrator is the first the organization has had in its history, then you can add a third responsibility of implementing the cloud management service. Other responsibilities include:
- Approve or deny change requests for cloud management service modifications
- Analyze cloud resource deployment summary data
- Monitor cloud resource key metrics
- Integrate cloud systems into the current environment
- Resolve operational problems
- Evaluate and implement new cloud computing technologies
- Load balancing
- Depending on if the cloud administrator is also the storage administrator, responsibilities may include backup/restore and other storage-centric duties
Who is looking for cloud administrators?
Organizations looking for cloud administrators are organizations that currently rely on cloud computing and organizations looking to migrate to the cloud. This really depends on the nature of the organization and their specific needs. Since not all organizations use the cloud, not all organizations are looking for them.
Despite a few superficial similarities, system administrator and cloud administrator are two very different roles within an organization. System administrators focus on traditional computer systems, virtual systems and servers including implementing, configuring and managing them. Cloud administrators focus on an organization’s cloud computing and implement, configure, manage and monitor the cloud management service. If the organization has merged the storage administrator role into the cloud administrator role, then storage-related duties are included as well.
Following in the vein of being different, both roles require slightly different technical backgrounds. System administrator requires at least three years of experience, which may include general IT work; cloud administrator requires at least three years of experience working with a cloud management service. In terms of certifications, each role should focus on certifications specific to their responsibilities — system administrators focus on certifications with more broad applicability, including A+ and Network+, and cloud administrators focus on cloud-centric certifications such as Professional Cloud Administrator and Cloud+.
For those first sizing up medium-range (as opposed to long-shot) career choices in administration, the roles of system administrator and cloud administrator may be attractive choices. As explored above, these two roles are significantly different.
In a strange way, both roles are from different eras of the Information Age, with cloud administrator definitely being the fresh-faced new kid on the block. Organizations have different uses for these roles and different organizations will be looking for them, but the biggest similarity is this — both are great medium-range career choices with average incomes being above $80,000 annually for both.
- Moving Up in IT: System Administrator Role, Pluralsight
- Job: Cloud Systems Administrator, Cloud Computing Technologies
- The Storage Administrator Role Is Evolving: Meet the Cloud Administrator, NetApp Cloud
- Cloud Administrator, ClearedJobs.Net
- Cloud administrator responsibilities, ServiceNow
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