A network systems administrator is responsible for maintaining/configuring a computer network. This can range from settings up new user accounts to exchanging servers in a rack. The network systems administrator makes sure that a network is running at peak performance 100% of the time, and exceeds user demand. To exceed user demand an administrator may have to install and or upgrade hardware/software, troubleshoot problems that may emerge when installing new hardware/software, provide technical support for staff, and train staff to use new hardware/software.
Ever since around 2014 I’ve wanted to become a network systems administrator. It all started when my dad had given me my first server, it had an Intel Core 2 Duo E7500 clocked at 2.93GHz and 4 gigabytes of DDR2 memory running at 667MHz. I started out running a Minecraft server for me and a few friends and after that, it just started to grow. I don’t quite remember how I branched out from just running Minecraft servers but eventually, I ran my own FTP (file transfer protocol) server, with this, you can upload and download files between a client and the server.
Then I started to host VOIP (voice over IP) servers for guilds/clans. Eventually, I had to stop due to my internet connection being too slow. Shortly after though Google Fiber was offering plans in the Kansas City area. We had gotten the best plan they offered, 1 gigabit per second upload and download, after that my interest in server hosting peaked. I started hosting everything from game servers to websites.My first upgrade came when my dad had bought three Dell PowerEdge 1950 generation III’s in 2015, they each had 32 gigabytes of DDR2 ECC (error-correcting code) memory running at 667MHz, and two Intel Xeon X5470 quad-core CPUs running at 3.33GHz.
Not too long after I was introduced to the world of Linux. Linux is an open-source operating system, it was released on September 17, 1991. Linux has many different ‘flavors’ or distributions; Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, Arch Linux. The list goes on and on, there are literally thousands of different flavors of Linux. I started running Ubuntu server.
I soon realized how difficult Linux really was since it was just a terminal so I switched to Windows Server 2012 R2 to educate myself more on the subject. I figured out to truly learn how to use Linux I had to run the operating system in a virtual machine. A virtual machine is a computer running inside of the host machine, this isolates Linux from Windows so I’m not locked down to one operating system. Obviously, the virtual machine will use resources like memory and CPU power from the host system.
Eventually, I was running so many virtual machines that I was on my servers max. I had websites, mail services, VOIP, game servers, and FTP all running on one machine. I felt that it was extremely efficient, I wanted to virtualize everything but I was in the capacity of my server. I had to get an upgrade.For Christmas in 2016, I had gotten the upgrade that I needed. I had gotten a Dell PowerEdge R710 configured with 288 gigabytes of DDR3 ECC memory running at 1333MHz and two Intel Core Xeon x5650 hexacore processors running at 2.
67GHz. This gave me 12 cores and 24 logical processors in total. I had tons of room for expansion, and I still do. I haven’t even scratched the surface with this server yet. I was again hosting everything I could imagine. I was doing more experimenting than ever before, mostly with different Linux distributions, different network configurations with my storage server that I had. I was learning a lot.
In the spring of 2017, I started to experiment more and more with the hardware side of things. For example, I would start to configure my network switches so I could have the fastest data transfer speed to my storage server. Every time I would go to my ‘datacenter’ I would always find something to do. Whether it was plugging in another ethernet cable, or exchanging out processors in servers for faster ones, I was doing a little bit of everything at that point in time. Towards the summer of 2017, I was beginning to invest all of my time into cybersecurity. I had seen a video on youtube that covered building your own router. Shortly after I had my mind set that I was going to build the best firewall that I could, I wanted to get it to secure that it would block DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks.
These are attacks that get performed on a network to deny the client and or users service. I had gotten attacked before when I had refused to host for an individual so he had essentially taken out my internet. I didn’t want this to happen again in the future so I really wanted to make my router the best. I started doing research on the operating system and realized that it was a FreeBSD based operating system. FreeBSD is like Linux but it isn’t if that makes sense.
It is still terminal only but there are just a few commands that vary from one to the other. The easiest part of building my own router came when I was picking the hardware. Of course, I chose my second server, the Dell PowerEdge 1950, it was perfect for an overkill router, with the two processors and 32 gigabytes of memory. When it came to installing the actual software that was the challenging part. Let’s just say there were many hours put into browsing forums on how to configure the router to work with the google fiber service. Eventually, with lots and lots of troubleshooting, I finally got it working. Finally my very own router. Here I could configure whatever I wanted, there were no limits.
Soon after doing research on firewall plugins I stumbled upon one called Snort from Cisco. Cisco, as you know, is a company that manufactures networking hardware and software. Cisco is the enterprise standard for networking equipment. There were so many options for configuring the firewall. It took me about a month to finally get it configured how I wanted it. I had the firewall setup to where it would block any requests coming in at a certain size and time in between requests. I’ve tested it with multiple attacks and it works, it blocks all of the bad requests.
Everything was perfect, all of my servers were running optimally, my firewall/router was perfect but I had gotten an unexpected upgrade. For my birthday I had gotten three Dell PowerEdge R910s equipped with quad Intel Xeon X7560 octa-core processors, and 512 gigabytes of DDR3 ECC memory in each of them. When I read the spec sheet that came with the server I was in complete amazement. I had no idea what I would do with them and I have yet to figure that out. These are by far the best servers in my datacenter and I hope to be able to use them to their fullest extent.
As of right now, I don’t really have any future plans for the expansion of my datacenter. If anything I’m going to officially retire some servers once I get my R910s setup how I want and running efficiently.Throughout the years of expanding my datacenter, I have watched thousands of youtube videos and read hundreds of articles of how to do what I was trying to do. I watch a broad range of youtube channels but the channel that has influenced me the most is called My Playhouse. The channel is run by Morten Hjorth, he is from Denmark. He mostly posts videos of his home datacenter projects, however, he does post some product reviews every once and awhile. I feel that his videos are very educational since he is a network systems administrator himself so his videos actually portray what I am doing with my own datacenter. Usually, before I take on a project I go and watch some of his videos for research even though my project doesn’t really go 100% as planned, watching his videos really helps.
Morten mostly does work with IBM/Lenovo servers, however, he does do some stuff with Dell servers he favors IBM. I do all of my work on Dell servers, the difference between IBM and Dell is virtually nothing. The servers do the same thing, I think it’s just personal preference at that point.
Unfortunately, I could not get an interview with him even though I’ve tried multiple times to get into contact. I would’ve loved to talk with him about what his plans are for his home datacenter and his job as a network systems administrator.Another youtube channel that has influenced me through my years of learning is called Linus Tech Tips. This youtube channel does mostly product reviews but every now and then they will make a video of their server room.
They are professional content creators so they need lots of storage and extremely high-performance servers used for rendering and storing all of their videos. They don’t really post any videos of software tutorials, it’s mostly hardware tutorials and reviews. The most I’ve learned from their server videos is how to setup my datacenter. I wish I could’ve gotten into contact with them but they are far too busy for me to interview them. There aren’t really a lot of requirements that you must meet in order to become a network systems administrator. The only real requirement is that you must have a Bachelor’s degree in computer sciences.
There are however some qualifications that may help you get a job, the biggest one is becoming certified by Cisco. Becoming Cisco certified is very challenging therefore it is one of the best qualifications that you can have as a network systems administrator. I am planning on starting my training very soon and taking the exams when I graduate high school. I am planning on going to two years at Johnson County Community College and getting all of my prerequisites out of the way and then going to The University of Kansas to major in information systems and eventually get a job at Cerner as a systems administrator or a network specialist.I have learned a lot from setting up my own datacenter.
Possibly more than what I would’ve learned from just taking classes online. I feel that the hands-on experience of actually putting everything into the server rack really helps when you’re first getting into being a network systems administrator. I have a greater appreciation for our IT staff at my high school. I can finally truly say that I completely understand what they have to do to set up our school’s network because I’ve done it all before in my own datacenter. I may not have as much experience as they do but I am on the road to becoming as knowledgeable as them in the field of IT.