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our company recently grew from about 40 people to 120 people in a span of about 4-5 months. earlier we had a workgroup based network with one part time system admin guy who would run around solving intermittent h/w issues, software and OS installs, formats etc. there would be the occasional virus problem that he would resolve.

however, now with a n/w of 125 systems with a cisco router and firewall, two separate capacity dedicated internet connections and a big team on remote login projects, we are facing far more system admin issues.

i wanted to ask what is right system admin team size for us and what skills should we look for. i'm hoping that my question is not too general.. i'll provide any details that anyone asks for.

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This is an impossible question to be answered here. It depends on the scope of your IT department and the resources/funding the company has available. A technology company may have a dozen sysadmins while a construction company may have none for 100 employees. –  Doug Luxem Aug 3 '10 at 15:28
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6 Answers

Why don't you ask your current sysadmin how much help he needs? Does he look stressed out? Is he always frazzled? We have ~100 user workstations. These are supported by one desktop support employee. We also have 4 full time sys admins for dealing with the servers and the network. On top of that, several of the developers also double as sys admins when needed. So, look at your current employee, does he never have time to get anything done? Add a 2nd. Start with that, grow from there. The number of sys admins you need depends entirely on what you do! To answer your 2nd question, what skills to look for, that also depends on what you do. If you just need another desktop support person, then that's what you should look for (your existing sysadmin should be able to help you know what you need). If you need networking/server admin people then that's what you should look for. If you need someone who does both, well, then that's what you should look for.

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I think it depends on how well maintained your network currently is. Is there any central administration going on right now? How old are the existing workstations/hardware? A single admin could very easily take care of 100 workstations with proper monitoring, remote access and central administration with some type of alerting. I don't think just throwing admins at a network just because there is a lot of equipment and users is necessarily a good idea.

If the network is messy, more people is just going to cost more $ to keep things up and running as it grows, whereas a properly maintained and configured network will continue to scale well with a single person.

EDIT1: @Bart, I agree. However, A lot of businesses will ultimately go with what impacts the wallet the least. (That's what I've seen over time, and also in my experience work the IT guy to death even if he is the only one) With that said, a single senior admin, with a part time junior would be a good compromise, assuming the network is in the type of shape that a junior would be able to manage on an infrequent basis, such as vacations and sick leave for the senior.

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A single admin I think tends to be a bad idea...one admin to keep the entire business going? Doesn't he or she deserve to go on vacation once in awhile, a real vacation? Unless that person devotes his or her entire life to the business and their tech, I think this life leads to burnout and decreased job performance. Your mileage may vary, though. –  Bart Silverstrim Aug 3 '10 at 13:02
    
well, that's the thing. since we grew rather suddenly, we dont have central administration or network monitoring in place. plus the current system admin is not a very specialized person. –  Amit Lath Aug 3 '10 at 13:35
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I think this is a good job for a single admin, but keep in mind that you need a backup in case of illness or holidays.

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It depends a lot, but some useful metrics are how many different actual systems there are to maintain? The more the higher the maintenance burden usually is.

Taking care of PC and end-user questions is a different story imo which deserves a helpdesk service specialized in user-interaction and expertize on the end-user applications. In smaller shops like this one, you usually promote certain end-users as system owners for their "favourite", responsible for answering questions and solving end-user problems - leaving you with less traditional helpdesk burden.

Depending on your environment and service level needs, a 100 people company could get by with anything from one part-timer to ten dedicated helpdesk, system administration and network engineering personnel.

Ask management what kind of down-time is acceptable. Is it ok for employees to have to stop what they're doing and get help whenever a desktop breaks down and is serviced? Or should you do proactive monitoring and fast near-non-interrupting replacements? Then take that question on to the back-end systems.

Perhaps a contractor job would be of value where you get a team of experts installing and configuring a more automatic and enterprisy environment for management and monitoring?

In my experience the burden increases exponentially after the first 30-50 people network and when it hits ~100 you could face the need of 4 times the IT support and maintenance needs if the environment doesn't scale well, isn't automated enough and so fourth. After that though I feel the curve usually relaxes a lot.

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I've found the number of users isn't as important as the number of productive hours spent on the network. I would gauge that you need one admin for about 100k hours per year. For a typical company this is one admin per ~50 "on their computer all day productive office workers".

If they're power users you can adjust that up a bit. Though power users tend to demand more of the network infrastructure and the services provided by servers. Adjust down for users that need hand-holding; nothing worse than trying to herd chickens.

Also don't forget that an excellent admin with the right tools can easily do two or three times the work of one poorly trained admin with the wrong tools.

Be careful listening to people who run large semi-public networks like college campuses; they are poor example of how many users are supported by an admin, as the number of productive staff on their network is substantially less than the number of users. I'm not trying to knock those admins at all (there are several on this site and I have the highest respect for some of them); but their networks environments and requirements are just plain different than most businesses.

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Users that need handholding kind of need a different sort of admin with different skills, while networks that have users that are "power users" seem to need better admins because the power users find more creative ways to break things and get into places they have no business being in...at least that's been my experience. –  Bart Silverstrim Aug 3 '10 at 13:04
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Well we support a network of 1200 computers and several thousand students and staff in a college environment with just 6 full time technical support people (and student helpers in the main summer break to help with large deployments of new hardware).

The question is perhaps how much support do the people and systems need. There's a big difference between 120 computer literate end users who can troubleshoot most of their day to day problems themselves and 120 people who need a lot of help with basic desktop computing... and same again for looking after a set of network services that make heavy use of outsourcing/cloud computing vs. everything running on site with specialist configurations that require a lot of maintenance.

edit based on your comment

So are you talking sysadmin staff or helpdesk staff? There is - or can be - a difference.

If people need a lot of help then I'd suggest certainly 2 full time people. At this point the question for me would be whether 2 is enough... and do they need to be 'full on sysadmins' or one full sysadmin, and 2 people who can do helpdesk type work and keep things going whenever the sysadmin is off.

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we need the admin staff for all basic hardware and software issues. the users are not very computer literate and need the admin for even a simple software install. –  Amit Lath Aug 3 '10 at 12:00
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That would generally be help desk or desktop support staff. Although in a small company one usually has to wear multiple hats. –  Doug Luxem Aug 3 '10 at 15:33
    
Absolutely agree Doug, but once you get to needing more than one member of staff it's worth thinking about what they will be doing. Amit said that users needed a lot of desktop type help and support which suggests people who specialise in that direction would be useful - especially if they're cheaper than actual sysadmin types to hire. –  RobM Aug 3 '10 at 16:12
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