For that panoply of responsibilities, a person employed as a systems administrator in 2012 can typically expect to earn an average compensation of $75,616, including salary and bonus, a 2.7 percent increase that was noticeably better than the 1.8 percent increase averaged across all job titles.
Right now, good opportunities exist for traditional sysadmins. According to Reed, demand is particularly high for those with Linux skills and any experience with mobile devices, and there is continued demand for professionals who work with Windows.
For sysadmins, cloudy days ahead
That said, the move to cloud computing is almost certain to impact the role of the sysadmin, as service providers increasingly take care of software, applications, infrastructure and computing platforms.
According to IDC projections, by 2015, some 24 percent of all new business software purchases will be of service-enabled software, while Gartner predicts the market for cloud-based infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) will grow by 47.8 percent through 2015.
"It's [an] adaptable moment in technology for infrastructure-focused professionals," Dice's Hill observes. Her advice? Smart systems administrators should begin augmenting their skills by focusing on other technologies, applications and processes, such as security.
"Since the lower levels can now be handled by cloud service providers, the sysadmin has to adapt the role closer to specialized applications or logical administration, such as policies, protection and processes," she says.
"There is a fundamental change happening because of increased use of cloud solutions, service providers and, to a certain extent, virtualization of services, even when they're offered internally," agrees Heikki Topi, a professor of computer information systems at Bentley University and a member of the education board at the Association for Computing Machinery. For systems administrators, he says, "there is a need to operate at a somewhat higher level of abstraction."
Where others see the move to cloud computing as a direct threat to the role of the traditional systems administrator, Philip Kizer sees opportunity.
Kizer, president of the League of Professional Systems Administrators (LOPSA), believes that cloud computing makes the sysadmin role more vital than ever.
With platform and software as a service (PaaS and SaaS), for example, companies should not rely solely on a service provider's expertise, but should augment that with highly experienced employees who understand the company's unique and sometimes complex requirements, Kizer says. Without an experienced sysadmin, companies "are at the mercy of providers' sales literature and sales staff," Kizer says. "They have no one with direct knowledge of their business requirements to advise them."
Within the industry, the prevailing wisdom is that most large companies are or will be initially adopting private clouds, where systems administrators are definitely still needed, before moving to a hybrid model of private/public cloud.
As a greater number of companies seek those cloud solutions, Kizer says, they will need staff to integrate cloud services into their existing business systems. "There will be programmer, sysadmin and project manager positions that will be needed, which could be new workers or sysadmins transitioning to those new positions," he says.