Server Support Headcounts Hold Steady

April, 2009

Server support personnel play an important role in installing, maintaining, and operating the various computer servers that comprise the data center. They also comprise a significant portion of the IT staff, ranging from 6% to 19% of total head count in most organizations. Yet determining appropriate server support staffing is not easy given the large number of variables that can influence data center productivity.

It is clear that in many organizations, systems administrators feel overworked as they wrestle with the rising numbers of servers, storage devices, and demands for improved service levels. In other organizations, managers may wonder whether their systems support operations have become bloated. After all, server consolidation, data center automation, and virtualization are all working to change the equation on optimum server support levels, and there is plenty of evidence that data center productivity has been rising.

This Research Byte is a summary of our full report, Server Support Staffing Ratios.

Server Support Staffing Defined
In this staffing study, we include two main categories of personnel within the server support group. The first category includes systems engineers and systems administrators, who provide technical services. Systems administrators can also engage in production control and direct operational activities. This category also includes personnel with titles such as systems manager, systems programmer, and storage administrator. The major functions they perform are operating system installation and maintenance, physical database support, and storage management.

The second group includes operations and operational support personnel. These functions include monitoring the overall health of the configurations, tape handling, production job/script management, and the like. They include staff with titles such as computer operator, console operators, and production control analysts.

In data centers today, many functional lines are blurring. However, our count of server support staffing does not include application programmers or logical database administrators. Also excluded are IT managers, such as data center and facilities managers, although shift supervisors and senior-level personnel would be counted as support staff. Also excluded are network administrators, desktop support technicians, and help desk personnel.

Computer Operators, Production Control Staff Counts Decline
As a percentage of total IT staff, systems engineers and administrators have remained fairly constant over the past three years. Figure 1 shows that the systems programmers and administrators accounted for 6.8% of the IT staff at the median in 2008, compared to a median of 6.6% in 2006. The difference is insignificant. This is in line with longer-term trends that show only a gradual decrease over the last 10 years in the percentage of IT staff fulfilling these functions, a surprising finding considering the growth in the number of servers under management in most data centers.

1 Server Fig1 - Server Support Headcounts Hold Steady

The full version of this report provides three metrics for benchmarking server support staff. These include server support staff as a percentage of IT staff, users per server support staff member, and, most importantly, servers per server support staff member. We provide these metrics for small, midsize, and large organizations.

We also look at other factors that can influence server support staffing, including the number of operating systems in an environment, the presence of mainframe systems, the impact of virtualization on data center efficiency, and the amount of time support staff spends on projects and technical support. While all of these factors can and do influence server support staffing, we find that basic staffing ratios have remained fairly consistent over the past three years.

IT organizations are as focused today as ever on improving data center productivity, and they are continuing to make steady progress. The demands generated by the Internet, enterprise applications, and data warehousing are nevertheless creating steady growth in the ranks of systems administrators. The result is that server support staff as the percentage of the IT staff is steady, even as the number of servers and amount of storage under management continues to grow. In order to stay in place, IT organizations need to keep investing in best practices and tools that enable them to do more with less.

This Research Byte is a brief overview of our report on this subject, Server Support Staffing Ratios. The full report is available at no charge for Computer Economics clients, or it may be purchased by non-clients directly from our website at (click for pricing).

Do you also need staffing ratios for other IT job functions? Consider this collection of all of our staffing ratio reports, which bundles them all into a single report at a significant discount: IT Staffing Ratios–Special Report Bundle