What Are the Duties of a Network Administrator?

C. Mitchell

Network administrators are usually responsible for a wide range of computer and Internet related tasks, but most of their duties fall within three broad categories: system construction, maintenance, and troubleshooting. Construction involves the actual coordination of a computer network, from setting up the central server to linking and testing all users’ connections. Maintenance usually concerns routine testing of the network’s fidelity and installation of updates and security patches as needed to keep the network up to date and safe from outside threats. On the troubleshooting side of things, the duties of a network administrator usually involve listening to client problems, diagnosing bad connections, and finding solutions, whether in person or remotely.

Cat5 cable, which is used with networks.
Cat5 cable, which is used with networks.

Computer networks are essential to a great many businesses, organizations, and even homes. A homeowner running a wireless network for the use of his family and a corporation with an established server linking desktops, laptops, and mobile devices may not seem all that similar at the outset, but both rely at least in part on the services of network administration personnel. In the case of a home or small business server, the administrator may only be reachable by telephone. Most corporations have whole staffs of administrators on call at any given time. The specific duties of a network administrator may vary depending on location and work situation, but most professionals have a similar set of core skills and do similar work, albeit on different scales.

A network administrator working.
A network administrator working.

Setting up a computer network is usually one of the preliminary duties of a network administrator, particularly in large organizations. In homes and smaller-scale settings, users can often set up their own networks with just a bit of time and studying. Much depends on the complexity of the task at hand. A basic wireless network is usually easy to establish, but a synched e-mail router, linked folders visible to a host of users simultaneously, and coordinated server storage space is often a task for someone with specialized network engineering training.

Once a network has been established, it must usually be maintained in order to stay functional. Maintenance can be as simple as creating new accounts for new employees and removing the privileges of those who depart. The task often involves much more proactive monitoring as well, including testing the network for weakness, keeping an eye out for needed updates, and installing security programs. E-mail filters and network management software is part of this, too.

In many organizations, the maintenance duties of a network administrator also include employee training. Administrators in these circumstances must host regular seminars or mandatory meetings about how the network works, how files should be properly downloaded and shared, and basic Internet safety precautions, to name a few. Explanations are usually simplified, as the aim is not to make users into administrators on their own but rather to equip them to make good choices and help prevent network catastrophes.

Little with technology is foolproof, which means that troubleshooting and problem-fixing are also key duties of a network administrator. Some of this is handled on an individual level. Users who cannot get online or who cannot access certain files usually call a network analyst first. Most organizations rotate their administrators through shifts at the help desk, answering calls and fixing problems.

Troubleshooting can also happen on the larger computer network level. When portions of a network go down, or when multiple computers suddenly lose access, an administrator with network engineer skills will usually step in to diagnose, assess, and fix the problem. Administrators must often work together and collaborate when dealing with complex network failures. Sometimes this means rerouting certain connections or re-coding certain network segments, but it can also require more complex fixes like replacement of network equipment or system upgrades and overhauls.

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