System administrator

System administrator

Who is the system administrator

The distinction between system programmer and system administrator varies widely among mainframe sites. In smaller IT organizations, where one person might be called upon to perform several roles, the terms may be used interchangeably.

In larger IT organizations with multiple departments, the job responsibilities tend to be more clearly separated. System administrators perform more of the day-to-day tasks related to maintaining the critical business data that resides on the mainframe, while the system programmer focuses on maintaining the system itself. One reason for the separation of duties is to comply with auditing procedures, which often require that no one person in the IT organization be allowed to have unlimited access to sensitive data or resources. Examples of system administrators include the database administrator (DBA) and the security administrator.

While system programmer expertise lies mainly in the mainframe hardware and software areas, system administrators are more likely to have experience with the applications. They often interface directly with the application programmers and end users to make sure that the administrative aspects of the applications are met. These roles are not necessarily unique to the mainframe environment, but they are key to its smooth operation nonetheless.

In larger IT organizations, the system administrator maintains the system software environment for business purposes, including the day-to-day maintenance of systems to keep them running smoothly. For example, the database administrator must ensure the integrity of, and efficient access to, the data that is stored in the database management systems.

Other examples of common system administrator tasks can include:

  • Installing software
  • Adding and deleting users and maintaining user profiles
  • Maintaining security resource access lists
  • Managing storage devices and printers
  • Managing networks and connectivity
  • Monitoring system performance

In matters of problem determination, the system administrator generally relies on the software vendor support center personnel to diagnose problems, read dumps, and identify corrections for cases in which these tasks aren’t performed by the system programmer.

Who are the application designers and programmers?

The application designer and application programmer (or “application developer”) design, build, test, and deliver mainframe applications for the company’s end users and customers. Based on requirements gathered from business analysts and end users, the designer creates a design specification from which the programmer constructs an application. The process includes several iterations of code changes and compilation, application builds, and unit testing.

During the application development process, the designer and programmer must interact with other roles in the enterprise. For example, the programmer often works on a team of other programmers who are building code for related application program modules. When completed, each module is passed through a testing process that can include function, integration, and system-wide tests. Following the tests, the application programs must be acceptance tested by the user community to determine whether the code actually satisfies the original user requirement.

In addition to creating new application code, the programmer is responsible for maintaining and enhancing the company’s existing mainframe applications. In fact, this is often the primary job for many of today’s mainframe application programmers. While mainframe installations still create new programs with Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL) or PL/I, languages such as Java™ have become popular for building new applications on the mainframe, just as they have on distributed platforms.

Widespread development of mainframe programs written in high-level languages such as COBOL and PL/I continues at a brisk pace, despite rumors to the contrary. Many thousands of programs are in production on mainframe systems around the world, and these programs are critical to the day-to-day business of the corporations that use them. COBOL and other high-level language programmers are needed to maintain existing code and make updates and modifications to existing programs. Also, many corporations continue to build new application logic in COBOL and other traditional languages, and IBM® continues to enhance their high-level language compilers to include new functions and features that allow those languages to continue to take advantage of newer technologies and data formats.

Who is the system operator?

The system operator monitors and controls the operation of the mainframe hardware and software. The operator starts and stops system tasks, monitors the system consoles for unusual conditions, and works with the system programming and production control staff to ensure the health and normal operation of the systems.

System console messages can be so voluminous that operators often have a difficult time determining whether a situation is really a problem. In recent years, tools to reduce the volume of messages and automate message responses to routine situations have made it easier for operators to concentrate on unusual events that might require human intervention.

As applications are added to the mainframe, the system operator is responsible for ensuring that they run smoothly. New applications from the Applications Programming Department are typically delivered to the Operations Staff with a run bookof instructions. A run book identifies the specific operational requirements of the application, which operators need to be aware of during job execution. Run book instructions might include, for example:

  • Application-specific console messages that require operator intervention
  • Recommended operator responses to specific system events
  • Directions for modifying job flows to accommodate changes in business requirements

The operator is also responsible for starting and stopping the major subsystems, such as transaction processing systems, database systems, and the operating system itself. These “restart operations” are not nearly as commonplace as they once were, as the availability of the mainframe has improved dramatically over the years. However, the operator must still perform an orderly shutdown and startup of the system and its workloads, when it is required.

In case of a failure or an unusual situation, the operator communicates with system programmers, who assist the operator in determining the proper course of action, and with the production control analyst, who works with the operator to make sure that production workloads are completing properly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *