The network administrator is one of the most important people in any IT department as without a properly functioning network, your online business may as well not exist, your office workers will find themselves cut off from each other and the data services they depend on (not to mention their facebook and twitter activities) and your CEO wont get his daily stocks fix.. the entire company can effectively grind to a halt due to a fault in the network.
The internet is after all, simply a network of networks and the world depends on it for so much these days and that dependency is only increasing which means an ever growing demand for competent network administrators in just about every corner of the globe.
But what exactly does a network administrator do and how do you become one? Similar to becoming a system administrator there are a number of paths to reach the goal such as formal training and industry certification as well as self-study on home built networks and a combination of the aforementioned. However networking equipment can be expensive and in the case of the top end CISCO gear used in datacenters, VERY expensive so setting up a home network is not really an option unless you have very deep pockets or spend a lot of time dumpster diving outside your local Google datacenter. Fortunately there is a solution to this problem in the form of virtual networking labs which simulate the whole network system with every bit of hardware you could ever need available in simulation.
Networks in the business world start from the office network with a bunch of PC’s, a network connected printer and a router and firewall through which the office connects to the outside world. Outside the office the network admin is most likely to be found deep within a datacenter surrounded by thousands of servers and hundreds of miles of network cables which provide the infrastructure which keeps all your favourite websites online, not to mention email and countless other internet services.
Certifications for network admins go from the basic Network+ and go up to the very advanced Cisco certs such as CCIE which is what the big money earning network guys have. Of course getting CCIE certified is both complicated and very expensive so your best bet is to find a willing employer who will fund your training. There are though many lesser certs which are very useful and in fact pretty much standard requirements in the industry such as the CCNA cert, again from Cisco, which covers all the fundamentals – it is though very widely held so just having a CCNA is no guarantee of a job and you should aim higher to get a CCNP or equivalent or specialize in other aspects of networking such as security, to ensure your future prospects. Of course Cisco isn’t the only game in town but they pretty much set the standard for networking so you can’t go far wrong with their certification program.
As a network admin in an office environment you could be spending your time crawling around in the dust under desks connecting new PC’s to the network, fixing the printer and messing with other networked gadgets which may not be wildly exciting. In the datacenter you could be wiring up server racks, installing big networking equipment such as switches, routers, firewalls, and all manner of servers and assaulted by the surprisingly loud noise of thousands of fans and disks whirring away while also shivering in the cold air of the air-conditioned server room. In-between installing and fixing network gear you might spend your time (often on the night-shift) sat in a room full of big screens showing the status of the various components within the network and prepared to leap into action in case anything goes red. Exciting stuff.. 😉
At the top of the pile, the CCIE and those of that ilk would be out designing the architecture for datacenters and the networks they house, ensuring they can cope with the massive volume of traffic and the complex globally connected requirements of the DC clients. Those clients may be some of the largest companies online these days, the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others who have very demanding and often critically important needs but who also get all the best tech toys.
Fun and profitable times for the network administrators up there at the top of the hill!