Field studies of computer system administrators: analysis of system management tools and practices
Computer system administrators are the unsung heroes of the information age, working behind the scenes to configure, maintain, and troubleshoot the computer infrastructure that underlies much of modern life. However, little can be found in the literature about the practices and problems of these highly specialized computer users. We conducted a series of field studies in large corporate data centers, observing organizations, work practices, tools, and problem-solving strategies of system administrators. We found system administrators operate within large-scale, complex environments that present significant technical, social, cognitive, and business challenges. In this paper, we describe system administrator tool use in critical, high-cost, labor-intensive work through observational, survey, and interview data. We discuss our findings concerning administrator needs for coordinating work, maintaining situation awareness, planning and rehearsing complex procedures, building tools, and supporting complicated interleaved workflows.