If you’re asking the question, what is network administration, the short answer is—it consists of the management, monitoring, maintenance, and security of a network. It’s a necessary process, though time-consuming, without the proper tools.
Below, we’ve provided a comprehensive guide to network administration. And if you’re looking for one of the best tool options around, consider trying SolarWinds® Network Performance Monitor (NPM) for comprehensive capabilities at an affordable price, or SolarWinds® Network Configuration Manager (NCM)for an easy-to-use solution for device configuration.
What Is Network Administration?
As stated above, by definition, the aims of network administration are managing, monitoring, maintaining, and securing an organization’s network. However, the actuality can be pretty complex. The process is typically handled by one or more administrators, who take care of all the specific tasks and procedures needed to ensure health and security, tasks that vary depending on the size and type of an organization.
To fully understand the scope of network administration and how an administrator’s duties might vary from organization to organization, it’s first necessary to understand the definition of a network. At its core, it’s the system by which computers exchange information. However, it isn’t merely made up of computers—networked computing devices exchange information via nodes established by cable or wireless media. And a network is composed of many different applications, devices (including computers, mobile phones, tablets, etc.), servers, routers, switches, and other hardware, not to mention tools like printers, fax machines, and email. Depending on the size of the system—from small organizations and personal LANs to enterprise webs existing globally—the needs of networks can vary greatly.
Network Administration Goals
While the size and needs of networks vary, the goals for admins are fairly standard. No matter the size of the system, administration nearly always aims to maintain a reliable, secure network conducive to business operations. Generally speaking, goals usually include the following:
- Maintaining resiliency and ensuring function and availability
- Planning and improving capacity to enable seamless access and operations
- Leveraging networking tools for automated administration and better control
- Tracking and documenting relevant changes
- Evaluating possible risks and orchestrating effective mitigations
- Preventing activities compromising or using the network as an attack vector
- Identifying and mitigating intrusions to avoid security breaches putting data at risk
Main fields of Network Administration
Within administration, there are five key areas:
This area focuses on monitoring the entire infrastructure with the goal of identifying and addressing issues potentially affecting it. Fault management uses standard network protocols such as Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to monitor infrastructure.
Configuration management focuses on trackingconfiguration and related changes affecting components, including switches, firewalls, hubs, and routers. Unforeseen changes can affect networks drastically, which can lead to downtime. Therefore, it’s imperative to streamline, track, and manage configuration changes.
Usage can significantly affect many components of a network. Account management is used to track network utilization to estimate, prepare for, and potentially bill the usage of various departments within an organization. For smaller organizations, account management and billing may not be as important. But for all networks, monitoring utilization can aid in spotting specific trends and inefficiencies.
For efficient operations, admins must focuson maintaining service levels, which is where performance management comes into play. Performance management is built around collecting various metrics and analytical data to continually assess network performance, including response times and packet loss.
One of the most essential areas of network administration, security management, aims to allow only authorized activity and authenticated devices and users access to the network. Security management utilizes several disciplines to maintain secure networks, including threat management, intrusion detection, and firewall management. Security management also encompasses the collection and analysis of relevant network information to detect and block malicious or suspicious activity.
What Does a Network Administrator Do?
A network administrator’s job can involve various responsibilities, especially within larger organizations. Typically, a network administrator is responsible for installing, monitoring, troubleshooting, and upgrading infrastructure, including hardware and software components, while also monitoring activity and traffic. Additionally, a network admin is usually responsible for implementing optimization techniques to improve efficiency and utilization while managing and granting access to users and endpoint devices.
And the responsibilities don’t end there—other tasks may involve distributing software upgrades efficiently using tools such as Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and planning and executing routine backups for devices and applications. Admins sometimes must manage and distribute licenses, maintain compliance with those licensing agreements, and install new software applications and hardware appliances.
Often, network administrators are confused with network engineers. However, there are many differences between the roles. While a network administrator primarily focuses on the day-to-day tasks of managing and maintaining a network, a network engineer concentrates on aspects such as the lifecycle of a network and its design and strategic implementation. In larger organizations, a network engineer might lead a team of network administrators, collaborating with them to solve problems and improve efficiency. And though the two roles might sometimes overlap, network administrators are usually responsible for helping the network run smoothly, as the network engineer is responsible for designing and planning for growth.
Network Administrator Tools and Software
Over the past two decades, the ever-increasing number of components in the average network has changed the scope of network administration. Manual methods aren’t always enough due to the sheer number of devices and applications contained within an average infrastructure. And work-from-home and hybrid work environments have introduced the need for 24/7 support, no matter where an end user is located.
To facilitate the need for constant support in modern networks, admins increasingly use a collection of networking software and tools to perform operations optimally, including compliance, automation, configuration, real-time monitoring and alerting, inventory management, performance management, and vulnerability assessment.
One such tool is SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor, which provides comprehensive monitoring for on-premises and cloud-based networks all in one convenient tool. NPM also allows network administrators to gain deeper insights through intelligent mapping technology and customizable alerts to help ensure teams are alerted to network anomalies as soon as they occur.
Another excellent network administration tool is SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager. NCM can function as a standalone solution or integrate with NPM to help ensure compliance and automation while offering peace of mind with backup tools for when things go wrong due to equipment failure or human error.
Network administration is a complex job, constantly growing with each new feature and function added to the network. But with the right tools, network administrators can rest assured their networks are secure and supported.