LCA '09: Sysadmins after the cloud

The uptake of cloud computing was rendering many traditional systems administrator functions obsolete, tech author and Google sysadmin Tom Limoncelli told attendees at Linux.conf.au (LCA) in Hobart this week.

The uptake of cloud computing was rendering many traditional systems administrator functions obsolete, tech author and Google sysadmin Tom Limoncelli told attendees at Linux.conf.au (LCA) in Hobart this week.

The commoditisation of email services, instant messaging and chat systems, and even document storage and backups — all increasingly available online via the cloud — meant the nature of sysadmin work was changing, Limoncellis said in his keynote address.

When we adopt the abundance mindset, we treat our users better, manage our systems better and take care of ourselves better.

Tom Limoncelli

But the ability to send a lot of these jobs "to the cloud" didn't need to be seen as a threat or a negative, said Limoncelli, whose talk centred on viewing technology through a prism of abundance rather than scarcity.

"There are a lot of legacy applications that won't or can't move to the cloud, such as desktop life-cycle management and other tasks that require physicality," he said.

Computer users having more choice about how to do their computing was a reality of the online world now, said Limoncelli: "The IT department doesn't choose your search engine. Google is one click away from losing the customer if they're not the best search engine."

In a post-cloud world, the role of the sysadmin has changed, but they can still add value, said Limoncelli.

"We often think of computing in terms of scarcity — computers are expensive, software is expensive — and that drives much of how we make decisions around IT. Yet much of what we experience is abundant, like friendship and community — and growing — CPU power, bandwidth," he said.

"When we adopt the abundance mindset, we treat our users better, manage our systems better and take care of ourselves better. We add value by giving attention, showing concern (system monitoring) and ensuring protection through security and compliance."

"In addition to stability and trust there's also reducing pain."

Limoncelli used Google's famous "Tech Stop" support team as an example of a workplace committed to abundant user support. While some companies approached tech support with the goal of reducing time spent on the phone or solving problems, Google's modus operandi was designed to encourage access by users, he said.

Tech support at some companies might say "come back in half an hour when it's fixed", but Tech Stops were designed to be inviting, he said: "Why don't you sit in our lounge and play Nintendo Wii for half an hour while we fix this for you".

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