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The Challenge of the New Decade
The continuing trend toward online service delivery, accelerated by the technologies of e-commerce, place an ever greater burden on systems administration teams to provide high availability, stable computing platforms for business. Now even the smallest e-business must seek to understand and make use of proper systems management disciplines.
The Systems Administration Body of Knowledge (SA-BOK)
System Administrators are responsible for maintaining the operational integrity of computing systems, supporting the users of those systems, and encouraging the efficient use of computing resources.
In fact, there is an enourmous, unseen workload which includes such diverse areas as ensuring compliance with legal obligations, data security, technology planning, user education and more. The fact that this workload is mostly hidden is the cause of much of the problems facing today's system administration teams.
If we are to provide mature systems administration services, we must first understand what those services are, and then seek to establish the criteria for success in those service areas.
The table below defines some of the Key Areas of Responsibility (KARs) of the systems administration team, with respect to the effective management of computing resources. (Click on an area to examine it in greater detail.)
A systems administration team is responsible for all of the above areas, every day. The nature of the job, however, means that an under-resourced team tend to focus their activities on whichever area is hurting the most today.
By taking a large step back, and identifying these Key Areas of Responsibility, we can begin to take a more proactive stance with respect to the job of systems administration. We can evaluate existing practices in each area against industry benchmarks, and draw up plans for improvements to each such area.
The Systems Administration Capability Maturity Model (SA-CMM)
Having identified the areas of responsibility of systems administration, in the form of the SA-BOK, the next step is to annotate and amplify these definitions with a clear set of guidelines for the maturation of systems administration practices.
This is identical to the goals of the SEI Capablity Maturity Model for software engineering. The CMM is based upon the concept of five levels of organisational capability maturity, represented thus:
The results of this project will be set of stages of organisational maturity, akin to the five levels of CMM maturity, for systems management practices. For each of the domains identified in the SA-BOK project, a set of necessary processes, standards and controls will be specified which dictate the level of capability maturity of the organisation.
Organisations progress up through the maturity levels by addressing the next level's requirements to ensure consistent quality.
The Systems Administration Site Assessment Checklist
As a milestone in the project of developing a way to capture industry best practices, and the SA-BOK and SA-CMM projects, we have developed a checklist that allows a site to evaluate their maturity, in simple terms, and to begin to plan proactive improvement works in those areas they find wanting.
The current draft set of controls for systems management can be found here:
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