GCN Tech Blog

By GCN Staff

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The new power skills of sysadmins

For next week's issue, we just finished writing a big feature article about Windows Server 2008. The timing turned out to be a bit premature though, as Microsoft just pushed back the release of the code formerly known as Longhorn until early next year. But what can you do?

Anyway, when we were writing this article, one of the features about Windows Server 2008 we kept hearing people rave about was PowerShell, the new heavy-duty shell environment.

"PowerShell is a key change in how the Microsoft Server operating system will be managed," CDW-G technology specialist James Rankin told us.
Why? The shell environment allows administrators to write scripts that pull together functions from multiple programs and OS features and execute them as an automated process. Because a shell script can call objects from the .NET environment, administrators can pull out individual functions from within .NET programs. So instead of manually going through three or four graphical user interface-based applications just to, say, add a new user to the system, the admin can instead write the script that would automatically run through the process by calling all the relevant functions from each of the programs.

While good in theory, Rankin did admit that using PowerShell "does require someone who knows how to program. Not every system administrator will be doing this."

Of course the power of shell programming is old news for Unix systems administrators, who have long enjoyed the ability to write scripts. This skillset was pointed out by Commerce Department Chief Information Officer Barry West, during a recent e-seminar we hosted awhile back.

West has long been a vocal proponent for open source. At one point, he noted that one thing any agency should keep in mind when considering open source is that their IT talent should have some skills in programming. Managing a Linux environment, for instance, requires most of the work be done at the command level line. And while you (or your staff) may not be writing programs, the optimizations to some programs you'll want to make may require the kind of major modifications that require some programming chops.

So as making the most of both Unix and Windows is increasingly involves programming skills, system administrators may have to crack open those books on Perl, Python, and maybe even the object-oriented languages such as Java, C# and other languages in order to get ahead. The days of only clicking buttons or filling in command lines are coming to an end!

Posted by Joab Jackson on Jul 11, 2007 at 9:39 AM


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