System administration can be a thankless job. To all of the tireless administrators out there who keep the systems we reply upon up and running, today is the day that we say thank you!
System Administrator Appreciation Day (SysAdmin Day, for short) falls on the final Friday of July, and this year marks the fifteenth occurrence. So for all of you who have recovered a lost file, reset a password, fixed a printer jam, listened to our complaints about that one time the file server was unavailable for five minutes, come in to work at three in the morning to install an upgrade, traced network cables strung around like a plate of spaghetti, troubleshooted the world's most stubborn problem, or taken a printer out back to give it what was coming to it, we salute you.
And we thank you for your contributions to the open source community, too. Countless bugfixes have come from system administrators just trying to make a tool work in the real world, or sharing back a feature they added which then the whole community can benefit from. And countless tools which we've all come to rely upon have started out as just "a quick fix to that one problem."
A look to the past
In the early days, the ratio of administrators to computers was definitely in administrators' favor. It took a staff to keep a single mainframe up and running, and even the smallest requests took the work of sysadmins.
With the advent of personal computers, things changed. Ordinary users took control of their own machines, but with that new responsibility came new problems. The increased diversity of devices required a different, and more distributed approach to system administration.
The rise of the Internet also brought new challenges in the form of web servers and other remotely-hosted functions. And in recent years, applications which had once been the domain of the mainframe shifted back to a single location after spending many years on the desktop. Veterans will recall the good old days, but in many ways, what's old is becoming new again.
A look to the future
Things have certainly better, but the role of the system administrator isn't going away, it's simply changing.
The future is cloudy, and sysadmins are adapting. As more and more bare hardware solutions are being replaced with virtualized alternatives, administrators are adapting by changing their processes and tools to meet these needs. Infrastructure tools like OpenStack are making it easier to deploy applications running in the cloud, and scale-out applications mean that it's finally okay if a server goes down, because it can be easily replaced with another.
Tools like Chef, Puppet, Salt, Ansible, and others are bringing increased automation to system automation. The sysadmin of the future won't be the person who maintains a machine, but rather, who orchestrates the processes to maintain thousands at once.
It's a cloudy future, but a bright one.
And a little bit of fun
Let's get on to the celebrating part. Our friends at Puppet Labs are hosting a SysAdmin Day animated GIF contest, and well, we think you might enjoy participating, or at least looking at some of the entries. Finally, some time to kick back, laugh a little, and find that perfect GIF to celebrate the woes (and fun) of being a system administrator. Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.