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Server managers sound off on data center duties for 2014

Stephen J. Bigelow

It takes a staff of highly-trained administrators to manage and maintain all of the servers and systems that power a successful data center. But systems management requires more than just keen technical knowledge and integration insights.

TechTarget recently surveyed almost 400 IT professionals to gauge concerns, career characteristics, compensation and working environments for server managers. Here's what we found:

Technologies and initiatives for server managers

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systems management occupies the most time for 237 of our survey respondents. As these professionals prepare for 2014, 39% expect to address networking issues in the WAN or LAN, 36% will continue to focus on server management, and 33% will deal with virtualization initiatives within the organization.

"Virtualizaton technologies in hardware and software are improving quickly, allowing IT to deliver more sophisticated solutions to boost employee productivity while lowering overall costs," said Scott Gorcester, CEO of VirtualQube, a hosted services provider in Woodinville, Wash. "This adds huge opportunities for IT professionals."

About 58% of respondents see operational efficiencies gained from server virtualization and automated system tools as a key IT value for 2014. Moreover, 53% will work to improve employee productivity using technologies such as desktop and application virtualization, which can ease endpoint service calls and allow employees to work from almost any location.

And since IT provides computing services, 39% of systems experts plan to improve customer service delivery and enhance the end-user experience.

"Our largest IT project for 2014 will be to expand the reach of our employees," said Ron Zawora, IT administrator with InfoCures LLC, a technology services company headquartered in Pennsauken, N.J. "This means lightening their IT needs with better goods and services; think more 'mobile' but powerful."

Experience and compensation for server managers

About 49% of respondents said they have been in the business for 11 to 20 years, 17% have been in IT for 21 to 30 years, 16% have worked for six to 10 years, 10% have less than six years in the business, and 8% have been in IT more than 30 years. In specific server or systems management roles, 44% have been in the role for one to five years, 24% have held the role for six to 10 years, 17% have been at it for 11 to 20 years, and 14% have just about a year on the job.

Only about 1% have been in the role more than 30 years. This is likely due to normal career advancement, which moves server experts into other, more challenging roles within IT. Most IT staff with less than one year in a server management role took the position as a new career challenge.

Respondents reported average total compensation (salaries, commission and bonuses) of $83,162 (USD). In 2014, 52% of respondents expect a raise, while 16% are looking forward to a bonus. Another 27% do not anticipate any change in compensation for 2014. Only 1% of IT professionals expect a cut in pay or benefits.

Compensation is often tied to employee value, so IT professionals seek any opportunity to train, working with the latest technologies along with professional development.

"I plan to attend both PeopleTeck Leadership Journey and CISSP classes," one director of infrastructure with a major financial company said.

At least 33% of server and systems experts are notably pessimistic about the mood in IT, with a majority citing limited career advancement opportunities, ineffective management and dissatisfaction with available training for the many tasks that server and systems work requires. Only 23% of respondents reported optimism in IT, driven by accelerating business, an emphasis on innovation and comfort with the management team. Another 44% of respondents said they are neither optimistic nor pessimistic -- simply moving forward and dealing with the daily challenges that IT brings.

Success for server managers

IT professionals measure "success" with different criteria, but there are some notable themes. For server and systems experts, 70% gauge their job success by ensuring the reliability of IT services by improving systems resilience and mitigating potential downtime.

Meeting productivity goals is important to 43% of server experts, and 42% want to complete meaningful IT projects on time. Instead of service delivery, however, 32% of server experts want to help the business achieve an established goal or outcome; rapid improvements in virtualization, hardware and software are providing important opportunities for IT professionals to boost employee productivity and lower business costs.

Zawora criticizes the use of standardized measurement ratings systems for job performance and stresses ongoing engagement with management.

 "I measure myself based upon feedback received by my peers, contributions to problem resolution that is outside of my own job scope, and whether my leaders know and request me," he said.

Eventually, every IT professional must decide when it's time to change roles inside (or outside) of the organization. About 29% of server experts would move up in the IT organization, yet only 13% would entertain a move up into the overall business, 17% would also stay in their current role, and 18% seek a larger company.

"I feel compelled to contribute to something larger than myself," Zawora said. "But I know when the work to be done is best left to someone else – instead of sticking around only for a paycheck."