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System Administrator vs Network Administrator

System Administrator vs Network Administrator: What's the Difference?

Jul 25, 202310 mins readAmit Masih
System Administrator vs Network Administrator: What's the Difference?

If you're considering pursuing an IT degree program and wondering about the job possibilities in the IT field, it's common to find specific job titles that need to be clarified, or more challenging to differentiate.

For example, have you ever wondered what sets apart a network administrator from a system administrator? While they may sound similar, their organizational roles and responsibilities are different.

If you want to work with computers and networks, consider a career as a network engineer or a system administrator. Both positions are in demand, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 6% growth in employment for network and computer systems administrators from 2016 to 2026— on par with the average for all occupations.

However, there are differences between these two professions when it comes to their duties, required skills, and certifications. Understanding these distinctions can assist you in determining which path aligns better with your experience, interests, and career aspirations.

In this article, we will explore how system and network administrators differ while highlighting areas where they share similarities. Although both roles involve working with computers, their career goals and skill sets are different. Sometimes, they collaborate closely, while at times, they work independently.

What is a systems administrator?

A system administrator is responsible for ensuring the efficient operation of computer systems. They work with both hardware and software components to achieve goals. System administrators handle tasks about servers, software infrastructure, and user support. They assist users in accessing IT resources and provide solutions to any problems.

Some typical responsibilities of system administrators include;

Setting up computer servers: System administrators acquire server hardware and prepare the environment for server installation. They install server devices operating systems and conduct tests to ensure everything functions properly.

Installing and updating software systems: System administrators select software for the hardware and install it within the system. They also schedule updates to address bugs, introduce features, and enhance user interfaces.

Troubleshooting server issues: System administrators perform tests to identify the cause of system failures or slowdowns. Through a process, they pinpoint whether the problem is digital or physical and resolve it.

Responding to user tickets: The system administrators carefully examine each ticket that users submit to report any problems or glitches they face in the system. They provide guidance or fix the user issues as needed.

Backing up data: The job of system administrators includes creating and protecting copies of system data. They follow a schedule for data backups to ensure they have access to different versions of the system code in case they need to restore a backup.

Recovering from system crashes: System administrators have to prepare detailed guidelines for restoring lost data and reviving the system after a failure. These guidelines aim to offer solutions for different scenarios of data loss.

Ensuring application compatibility: System administrators check that all applications in the system work well with each other and the network. They prevent and resolve any issues that may occur when multiple users perform various tasks at the same time.

Managing user accounts: System administrators set up user accounts, grant permissions, create passwords, and make necessary changes for system users. They can remotely help individuals or groups of users within server categories by accessing their accounts.

Documenting system changes: System administrators keep track of server activities, changes, and service interruptions. These written records serve as references for guiding system development and improvements.

What is a network administrator?

A network administrator is an IT expert who manages the network connectivity of computers. They work with network devices and infrastructure to ensure that they can support user activities effectively.

Network administrators monitor the network traffic and demand to spot any weaknesses or irregularities that may emerge. Their main duty is to ensure that all IT systems stay connected, and in case of any connection problems, they troubleshoot to find the source.

Network administrators perform the following tasks on a daily basis:

Choose network hardware: Network administrators thoroughly choose appropriate networking equipment based on their client's requirements. They carefully select cables, routers, and switches to create networks of varying sizes and capabilities.

Configuring networking equipment: Network administrators physically configure networking equipment to establish the transmission of network signals. They securely connect cables, adjust plug connections, and set up devices to enhance connectivity stability.

Connecting devices to networks: Network administrators assist clients in connecting their devices (such as computers, phones, etc.) to the designated networks and related servers. They configure computer settings, software systems, and other necessary components so that these devices can seamlessly access information through network channels.

Monitoring network activity: Network administrators need to keep a close eye on user activity and network load. This helps them identify problems, avoid system overload, and uphold security standards. System admins have to find out the areas of network activity and make changes to reduce any negative impact on network speed or stability.

Addressing connectivity issues: Network administrators work hard to find the root cause of the problem when clients have trouble connecting to their networks. They test the connectivity, check the upload and download speeds, and remotely access client devices to find out the network issues at the user-end.

Implementing firewall protection: Network administrators use firewalls and other security tools to guard networks against access. They set up firewall settings carefully to allow only authorized users while blocking any access or information breaches.

Dealing with outage reports: Network administrators quickly investigate both hardware and software systems when system-wide outages happen. Their main goal is to restore connections for all affected users.

What’s the difference between a network administrator and a system administrator?

If you are curious about how network and system administrators are different, for your surprise, both of them are IT experts, but they do different things depending on how big the organization they work for is.

In small businesses, they might have to do some of the same things; but in big businesses, they have their own special and specific jobs.

A network administrator takes care of the servers and makes sure that the network is always working well. They want to make sure that computers can talk to each other and the Internet. They do things like putting in and setting up hardware and software that have to do with networking. They also work very hard to keep the network running fast and safe.

A system administrator is responsible for the network services and applications. They make sure that computers have the right software and updates. They manage how the network is designed and what it has. They are the ones who set up email, web, and file servers. They also keep the network safe from hackers and viruses.

At the end of the day, both of them are IT managers in some ways, but you need to understand that a network administrator mostly focuses on the servers and the network connection. A system administrator mostly looks after the network services and applications.

You can better understand their roles with the following comparison:

Network Administrator:

  • Manage server infrastructure
  • Installs and configures LAN and WAN
  • Maintains the hub where all the servers are located
  • Installs and maintains the set-up network

System Administrator:

  • Manage network security
  • Installs software and updates accordingly
  • Keeps design elements and network components  

What skills do you need to become a network administrator or system administrator?

If you want to be a network administrator or a system administrator, you need to have some skills that are very important for both jobs. These skills will help you do your job and grow as a professional. With these skills, you will be ready to perform well as a network administrator or a system administrator.

Outlined below are some of the skills necessary:

1. Analytical Skills: It is crucial to have the ability to analyze network and system performance data effectively. Also, identifying information and utilizing it to troubleshoot problems or enhance network and system functionality is vital.

**2. Communication Skills: **You must be capable of explaining issues and solutions in a manner that nontechnical individuals understand. Collaboration with teams, sharing ideas, and providing feedback are essential to effective communication.

3. Computer Skills: Proficiency in utilizing computers and software applications is essential for this role. Managing and maintaining networks and systems and resolving their issues require solid computer skills.

Career paths for system administrators and network administrators

Network and system administrators follow career paths that align with their skills and interests. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, network administrators are currently in demand, with a projected 5% employment growth from 2020 to 2030.

This increased demand is driven by organizations' investments in cutting-edge technology, which makes it essential for skilled network administrators to manage and maintain these systems efficiently. Network administrators have career options, including roles such as data center manager, senior system manager, director of IT, and information system manager.

Similarly, system administrators also enjoy a range of career paths based on their expertise and aspirations. They can pursue careers as system analysts, cybersecurity professionals, data protection experts, software engineers, android developers, lead technicians, or web developers. These opportunities allow system administrators to explore areas of specialization within the field.

What Job Titles Are Related to System Administration and Network Administration?

Once you acquire the skills required for an administrator role, you can have various opportunities to pursue multiple job titles. It's important to note that your specific title will depend on factors such as your industry expertise, years of experience, and personal interests.

Here are some examples of job titles for administrators:

  • IT director
  • IT manager
  • IT specialist
  • Local area network administrator (LAN administrator)
  • System engineer

How to choose between being a network administrator or a system administrator

You may wonder how to choose if you're deciding between a career as a network administrator or a system administrator. Both roles offer different opportunities and come up with other challenges and rewards.

Here are some suggestions to help you make your decision:

Start by gaining experience with a system: Look for job opportunities in companies where you can take on network and system administration responsibilities. This will allow you to learn how things work and determine what aspects you enjoy or dislike. It will also help you identify the skills required and troubleshoot any problems that may arise.

Familiarize yourself with both roles: You don't have to commit to one. Consider taking courses or training in both network administration and system administration. This way, you can explore which area interests you more and aligns better with your strengths and preferences. Remember, it's not just about considerations —it's also about finding enjoyment and ease in your chosen career path.

Think about your long-term goals: Becoming either a network administrator or a system administrator doesn't mean that's where your journey ends. There is room for growth and career advancement in these fields. Network administrators can progress in leadership positions, such as directors or architects of information systems, while system administrators can pursue roles as engineers or designers of system solutions.

The final verdict

There are a lot of things in common between network administrators and system administrators. In spite of that, the first focuses more on hardware, whereas the second focuses more on people and software.

In addition, even though they share some similarities in terms of how they work, they both tend to work in different industry niches.

There's no doubt that both roles play a key role in running a company's IT and development infrastructure.

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