Professional development

What is a cloud administrator? Essential roles and skills

September 15, 2022 by Gilad Maayan

Cloud computing has become an essential part of the modern IT landscape. There are several key roles in charge of cloud environments, including cloud engineers, responsible for developing innovative cloud infrastructure; cloud architects, responsible for designing the solution architecture of a cloud deployment; and cloud administrators, responsible for managing cloud workloads in the day-to-day. 

What is a cloud administrator?

A cloud administrator is a specialized role performed by cloud engineers — IT professionals responsible for cloud computing-related tasks, such as planning, design, management, support and maintenance.

A cloud engineer may perform several cloud-focused engineering roles, such as:

  • Cloud architects manage the cloud’s infrastructure by overseeing application architecture and configuring and deploying applications in the cloud.
  • Cloud software developers build and maintain applications, functions, features and databases for the cloud.
  • Cloud security engineers build and maintain security features that protect cloud-based applications and platforms.
  • Cloud administrators manage all hardware and software required for using cloud-based services.
  • Cloud network engineers manage and support all network infrastructure and connections between service providers and clients.
  • Cloud automation engineers perform similar tasks to those cloud developers but focus on automation, integration and orchestration.

A cloud administrator maintains the functionality and infrastructure of cloud infrastructure, assisting in cloud service deployments and working alongside other cloud roles to ensure the network functions well.

A cloud administrator role typically requires a relevant undergraduate degree and years of experience in cloud computing or other IT fields. Some employers also require cloud administrators to obtain a Master’s degree.

Cloud administrator job description and salary

A cloud administrator typically uses mixed software environments, such as Unix and Windows, to manage several cloud infrastructure services and cloud servers. Additionally, this role needs to lead, maintain and oversee multi-user computing environments and develop, execute and supervise systems that can incorporate the relevant underlying cloud platform.

Cloud administrators often collaborate with IT teams to develop and support Unix or Windows environments, provide technical assistance on cloud environments, and help solve operational issues. Additionally, cloud administrators must select and operate tools for cloud storage management, high availability, cloud migration and optimization of cloud costs.

According to Payscale, a cloud administrator job that requires cloud computing skills earns, on average, approximately $70,740 per year in the U.S. Employees with significant work experience typically advance to other jobs over the years. According to ZipRecruiter, a cloud administrator can average $102,000 per year. 

Cloud administrator skills

Unix and Windows

A cloud administrator must be familiar with Windows and Unix computing environments because cloud deployments often utilize both operating systems. It means cloud admins need to know how to administer Linux and Windows virtual machines (VMs) that run in the cloud. Additionally, cloud administration tools often work with Windows and Unix operating systems. 

Many native cloud command-line interface (CLI) tools used for administration, such as gcloud CLI and AWS CLI, behave similarly to traditional Unix tools. However, administrators often need to run these tools on a Windows machine when administering on-premise Windows infrastructure, which requires working with both operating systems.

Virtualization

Since many organizations host workloads on VMs, virtualization has become integral to cloud computing. Cloud administrators must know how virtualization functions and understand the differences between the commonly-used virtualization platforms, including Hyper-V, KVM and VMware.

It does not necessarily require coding the hypervisor from scratch, but cloud administrators must understand what hypervisors are and how they differ from containers. Understanding the implications for the performance of running workloads on a hypervisor instead of bare metal is also critical.

Containers

Container deployment and orchestration platforms, like Kubernetes, have become an industry practice rather than a suggestion. As a result, cloud administrators are expected to learn how to proficiently use and supervise this technology. Here are important aspects cloud administrators need to understand:

  • Know when you should or should not use containers.
  • Know the difference between an on-premises Kubernetes deployment and managed services such as Microsoft Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) and Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS). 
  • Learn to properly define the container runtime. 
  • Know how to store persistent data for cloud-based containerized applications.

Cloud finances

Cloud administrators must account for the financial aspects of cloud computing to ensure workloads running in the cloud help save money rather than inflate costs. It requires understanding cloud finances, which means:

  • Learn the ins and outs of each cloud provider’s pricing model. 
  • Understand data egress and API requests and how these components factor into cloud billing. 
  • Learn how pricing differs for cloud VMs and serverless functions and how to right-size a cloud VM instance to reduce costs. 
  • Be aware of the various VM instance types and the different storage tiers available on popular public clouds, and know how to utilize them to design and run cost-effective cloud workloads.

CI/CD management

A cloud administrator might be asked to oversee a cloud environment that hosts a CI/CD pipeline. While this may not require managing pipeline code, cloud administrators do need to understand how CI/CD pipelines work and recognize the components factoring into the pipeline. Additionally, cloud administrators need to know how to support the pipeline, whether it runs in the cloud or utilizes a combination of cloud-based and on-premises components.

Cloud administrator certifications

The following certifications can help you land a job as a cloud administrator and can deepen your skills while already in a cloud administration position:

  • Microsoft certified solutions expert (MCSE): Cloud platform and infrastructure — verify that a candidate can handle high-level modern data center environments. It demonstrates expertise in cloud technology, systems management, identity management, virtualization, networking and storage.
  • AWS certified solutions architect — verifies candidates are knowledgeable in the deployment options and robust applications available on AWS. It focuses on advanced technical skills that enable candidates to design distributed applications and systems on AWS.
  • IBM certified cloud solution architect v2 — demonstrates that candidates have the expertise to plan and architect a cloud infrastructure. This certificate verifies candidates can handle any issue related to the concepts and architectural principles of IBM Cloud Infrastructure.
  • CompTIA cloud essentials — focuses on cloud computing challenges and solutions. Business professionals and non-IT personnel often choose this certificate, as it covers all cloud computing principles without going into highly technical aspects.
  • VMware certified professional 6: Data center virtualization exam — helps cloud administrators learn how to install, deploy, scale and manage VMware vSphere 6 environments.
  • Red hat certified system administrator in OpenStack — verifies that a candidate can use the Red Hat OpenStack Platform to create, configure, and manage private clouds.

The role and responsibilities of a cloud administrator

These are the critical skills required for a cloud administrator position:

  • Unix and Windows — needed to manage and operate cloud-based hosts
  • Virtualization — needed to manage the virtualization layer of cloud computing environments
  • Containers — needed to operate containerized workloads, which are becoming dominant in the cloud.
  • Cloud finances — needed to understand and optimize costs in cloud environments.
  • CI/CD management — needed to support DevOps activities in the cloud.

I hope this will be useful as you evaluate the cloud administrator role for your future career.

Posted: September 15, 2022
Author
Gilad Maayan
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Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Ixia, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry.

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