Posted: May 25th, 2022

Bonnets as essential components of automobiles


Mankind has long been fascinated with people who are essentially the same and yet present themselves with different characteristics. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is widely believed to be the author of the concept of “the other.” Essentially, the German philosopher suggested that men/women seem to want to put labels on others to establish the “pecking order” in their daily activities. (Hegel, 1807) This philosophical notion has been extended to diplomacy, politics and business. Rudyard Kipling famously said, “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” (Kipling, 1892) Individuals who resist the established order are universally shunned or eliminated. George Bernard Shaw observed that “Great Britain and America are two countries divided by a common tongue.” (Shaw, 1889) Who would have known that boots and bonnets were essential components of automobiles? On the same theme, Louis Armstrong sang, “You like tomato and I like tomahto.” He found that word differences were enough to “Call the Whole Thing Off.” (Armstrong, 1995)

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The assignment is to discuss “why companies find it necessary to distinguish between network administrators and systems administrators?” The temptation is to jump to the inescapable conclusion that they are simply two labels applied to departments or staff members so that one can blame the other when something goes badly wrong. However, a sober look at the literature reveals a complex web of interlocking relationships and dependencies worth exploring.


The first step in parsing these job titles is to examine the common word Administration. An Administrator, by definition — not necessarily in practice — takes care of things that are already made. (There are Systems Engineers and Network Engineers, but that is not part of the assignment.) an Engineer designs and builds things; an Administrator supervises the execution, use or conduct of something. In this context, an Administrator is responsible for the day-to-day processes that utilize previously implemented computer systems and related equipment designed for electronic data movement and processing. In today’s it world, considerable overlap and duplication exists in job titles and work assignments. A blog post by “dignan” on Ars Technica suggests some of the issues.

I am currently a Sr. Network Admin, but have had the title of Network/Systems Administrator, Network Engineer and Systems Engineer, all with relatively similar job functions. The guy I share an office with is a Sr. Systems Engineer and we basically overlap job functions. It really depends on the place you go as to what they call you. Many government contractors might be picky since they can sometimes budget with specific positions (read: job titles) required, but other than that they are basically the same. (Ars Technica, 2001)

Systems Administrator

What is a computer system? tells us it involves at least three basic elements: the input or source data; the processing of those data; and the output or result. There are four functional units involved in this transformation: the input devices; the central processing unit (CPU); the storage, or memory; and the output devices.

The central processing unit (CPU) is the control center of the system, and it has two parts: the “arithmetic/logic unit” (ALU) and the “control unit.” The ALU performs operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; as well as moving, shifting, and comparing data. The control section of the CPU directs and coordinates all the operations of the computer according to the conditions set forth by the stored program.

The main storage of a computer is basically an electronic filing cabinet where each location is capable of holding data and instructions. Input/output devices are linked to the CPU and can introduce data into the system, and can accept data after they have been processed. Some examples are: disk storage drives, printers, magnetic tape units, display stations, and data transmission units. (, 2011)

The computer units described above are called hardware. A computer system has three parts: the hardware, the software, and the people who make it work. The concern of this paper is to examine the people who put the system together and ensure that it operates as planned.

The function of a systems administrator is to maintain and operate a computer system and/or network.

The duties of a systems administrator vary widely from one organization to another. Systems administrators are usually charged with installing, supporting, and maintaining computer systems, and planning for and responding to service outages and other problems. Other duties may include light programming, project management, supervising or training computer operators, and being the consultant for computer problems beyond the knowledge of technical support staff. The subject matter of systems administration includes computer systems and the ways people use them in an organization. This entails knowledge of operating systems and applications, as well as hardware and software troubleshooting, but also knowledge of the purposes for which people in the organization use the computers.

The most important skill for a system administrator is problem solving. The systems administrator is on call when a computer system goes down or malfunctions, and must be able to quickly and correctly diagnose what is wrong and how best to fix it. In some organizations, computer security administration is a separate role responsible for overall security and the upkeep of firewalls and intrusion detection systems, but all systems administrators are generally responsible for the security of the systems in their keep. (, 2011)

Network Administrator

What is a computer network? According to McGraw Hill Online Learning Center, “a network is two or more computers connected so that they can communicate with each other and share information, software, peripheral devices, and/or processing power.” (McGraw Hill, 2011) Scott McNealy, former CEO of Sun Microsystems said in 1988 that “the network is the computer,” a view that was self serving for Sun, but it doesn’t help in the quest to separate the two.

A network administrator is responsible for the deployment, configuration, and maintenance and monitoring of active network equipment and software. Activities attendant to this role may include assigning network IP addresses to the devices connected in the network, assigning routing protocols, and authorizing directory services. This suite of activities gives the network administrator a measure of control over the personnel wishing to utilize the services of the network. He knows who is on the network at any time and who is responsible for using specific resources. This knowledge is useful for security purposes as well as for internal cost accounting. (Wikipedia, 2011)

The actual duties of a network administrator vary widely from organization to organization and may include physical maintenance of network assets such as CPUs, storage backup devices, printers, routers, Local Area Networks, VPN gateways, firewalls, and intrusion detection and protection software. (Wikipedia, 2011)

An important duty of the network administrator is providing technical support to the organization. A tiered response system with “trouble tickets” is usually employed. The initial incoming call reporting a malfunction is most often handled by a help desk operator. If necessary, the help desk will pass the trouble ticket on to a tier two technical specialist in the particular area of the fault. In case of non-responsiveness or inability to resolve the problem, the ticket may be referred to the network administrator as tier three, the top of the technical support pyramid. As a general rule, the network administrator should not be dealing with the end users on a regular basis. If the call gets to tier three, it becomes an organizational management issue and requires a measure of diplomacy as well as superior technical prowess. Several certifications are available for network administrators from Juniper, Cisco and Microsoft.


Reading through the descriptions of the functions of Systems Administrators and Network Administrators, the distinctions become somewhat clearer. The specific job activities tend to be assigned to one or the other depending on the size of the host organization. In a small outfit, it would not be surprising to see one person handling both jobs. In a large organization the System Administrator deals with the servers and the Network Administrator deals with the communications aspects of the network. Again, depending on the size of the organization, a Network Administrator may report to a Systems Administrator, but probably not the other way around. If Scott McNealy was right that the network is the computer, then even medium size organizations would be well served to cross train their it personnel so the distinction between these two job titles is immaterial.


Armstrong, L. (1995), Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Dignan, Ars Technica, Jan 28, 2001, post 305, – Information Technology- accessed 2011/1/14

Hegel, G.W.F., the Phenomenology of Mind, (1807), translated by J.B. Baillie, New York, Harper & Row, 1967

Kipling, Rudyard (1865 -1936), the Ballad of East and West, a Victorian Anthology (1895),

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833 — 1908).

McGraw Hill, Online Learning Center, I-Series Computing Concepts,

McNealy, S. Sun Microsystems

Shaw, G.B., (1889)

Wikipedia,, accessed 2011/1/14

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