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USENIX Tenth System Administration Conference (LISA '96)

A New Twist on Teaching System Administration

Raven Tompkins
University of Indiana


The Unix Workstation Support Group (UWSG) is part of University Computing Services (UCS) at Indiana University. Although UWSG is a small, five member group, located on the main campus in Bloomington, the group provides advanced system administration consulting for the entire campus system. This includes eight branch campuses as well as the main campus.

As a growing number of departments on campus turn to Unix to meet their computing needs, the need for system administrators increases. Many departments lack the finances to both purchase a Unix workstation and hire a system administrator. For example, the UWSG set up a new departmental workstation in late 1995. By mid summer 1996, the department still did not have a system administrator and the systems main users had only a minimal knowledge of Unix. Compounding this problem is a general shortage of experienced system administrators on campus. This has resulted in an increase in the number of novice system administrators and Unix users interested in learning system administration. The UWSG has felt this increase directly, as group members continue to spend more and more time on basic system administration consultations.

Because many of these requests come from outside the campus system, it is apparent that this issue is not limited to the Indiana University computing environment. The number of universities offering system administration courses has increased. University departments who have access to these courses frequently cannot afford the time involved in enrolling a staff member. Additionally, system administration is often an upper-level course that also requires several prerequisite courses. The number of commercial Unix system administration courses has increased. However, the cost of these training courses is prohibitive for many who could use the instruction.

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