Network Administrator vs System Administrator: What’s the Difference?

Diana Ipacs

October 6, 2023

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Network Administrator vs System Administrator: Discover differences, similarities, career prospects, salary, FAQs & more.


Wondering about the differences between the role of a Network Administrator and that of a System Administrator? While they might sound similar at first, these are distinct roles with their own focus and responsibilities.

Let’s see the differences in detail, followed by extra info on tasks, required skills, career progression, salaries, and more!

Network Administrator vs System Administrator

Network Administrator vs System Administrator: Key Differences

Network Administrators focus on ensuring the stability and security of an organization's data communication networks, emphasizing connectivity, network performance, and security measures like firewalls.

On the other hand, System Administrators manage the organization's software, hardware, and related technologies. Their duties revolve around maintaining servers, operating systems, software applications, and user account management.

While Network Admins are concerned with broader network-related tasks, System Admins concentrate on hardware, software, and internal system defenses.

In essence, Network Admins manage the 'external' communication pathways, while System Admins handle the 'internal' computing resources.

Focus Area

While Network Admins focus on network-related tasks like ensuring connectivity and network security, System Admins concentrate on managing servers, operating systems, and software applications.


Network Administrators tend to work on broader issues related to the organization's overall network, while System Administrators work more closely with the hardware and software that employees use daily.


Although there's overlap, Network Admins often deal with the outer defense layer (like firewalls and network security), while System Admins handle internal defenses and the smooth running of hardware and applications.


The skillset also varies, with Network Admins requiring deep knowledge of networking and communication protocols, whereas System Admins need to be proficient in server management, operating systems, and application support.

Skill Area

Network Administrator

System Administrator

Networking Protocols

Expertise in TCP/IP, routing, and switching protocols

Basic to intermediate understanding of networking protocols

Hardware Knowledge

Proficient with routers, switches, firewalls, and other network hardware

Focused on server hardware, architecture, and storage solutions

System Security

Concentrated on network security practices and firewall configuration

Expert in system security, intrusion detection, and server hardening

Monitoring Tools

Primarily uses network-centric monitoring and diagnostic tools

Relies on system and application monitoring and management tools


Scripting primarily for network automation tasks

Scripting for a broad range of server management, task automation, and application support tasks

Virtualization & Cloud

Engaged with network virtualization and familiar with cloud networking services

Deep understanding of server virtualization technologies and cloud platforms, including AWS, Azure, and others

Data Management

Understands data storage with a focus on network configuration and security

Skilled in system backup, recovery, data management, and storage solutions

Software/Application Support

Limited to supporting network-related applications and software

Provides extensive support for various operating systems and applications, sometimes including databases

Network Administrator Responsibilities

Infrastructure Maintenance: Network Administrators primarily ensure the stability, integrity, and efficient operation of the data communication networks that support the organization.

Network Stability: They guarantee uninterrupted network service by actively monitoring network performance, addressing network issues proactively, and optimizing network operation and connectivity.

Security: A significant part of their role involves implementing and maintaining security infrastructure, including firewalls, anti-virus systems, and intrusion detection systems.

Connectivity: They're responsible for the continuous operation of networks, making sure employees can connect to the internet and to each other securely and efficiently.

Network Administrator: Task Examples

  • Review network performance alerts and logs.

  • Troubleshoot and resolve network connectivity issues.

  • Update and monitor firewall rules and security policies.

  • Install, configure, and update network hardware and software.

  • Respond to network security incidents.

  • Plan for network infrastructure upgrades or expansions.

  • Document network configurations, topology, and changes.

System Administrator Responsibilities

Infrastructure Maintenance: System Administrators manage and maintain an organization’s software, hardware, and related technologies to ensure the availability of services used by the organization.

Server & Systems Management: They're in charge of installing, supporting, and maintaining servers and other computer systems, addressing issues related to the hardware and operating system.

Application Management: System Admins often oversee the installation, patching, and upgrade of software applications, making sure that the software the organization relies upon is available and functioning optimally.

User Management: They handle user accounts and permissions, ensuring employees have access to the resources they need while maintaining security protocols.

System Administrator: Task Examples

  • Monitor server statuses and system logs.

  • Perform routine system maintenance, such as patching and configuration updates.

  • Respond to help desk tickets and provide user support.

  • Conduct data backups and oversee disaster recovery procedures.

  • Manage user accounts, permissions, and system security settings.

  • Install and configure applications and services on servers.

  • Plan and prepare for future system upgrades and expansions.

  • Document changes made to the system configurations and infrastructure.

Dual Role: Is It Common?

Yes, it's relatively common, particularly in smaller organizations or startups where resources and budgets might be limited. In these environments, there might not be enough work or financial capacity to justify hiring full-time, specialized individuals for each role.

However, the dual role presents challenges, including a hefty workload and potential lack of deep expertise in each area, posing risks in critical situations. The combined role also presents potential security risks due to extensive access to systems and networks.

To safely merge these roles, the professional must commit to continuous learning, uphold strict security policies, and possibly seek external expert advice as needed, depending on the organization's context and IT complexity.

Network Administrator Vs System Administrator: Career Progression

Career Progression for Network Administrators

  1. 1
    Entry-Level/Pre-Network Administration Roles: Individuals often start in roles like Network Support Technician or Help Desk Technician where they gain hands-on experience with network hardware and software.
  2. 2
    Junior Network Administrator: In this phase, they take on more responsibility, managing smaller networks, troubleshooting issues, and assisting senior administrators.
  3. 3
    Network Administrator: With experience, they handle larger networks, ensuring security and connectivity while optimizing performance.
  4. 4
    Senior Network Administrator/Network Engineer: They take charge of crucial network operations and architecture, sometimes managing a team of administrators.
  5. 5
    Network Manager/Chief Network Architect: At this level, individuals oversee the organization’s entire networking function, planning and implementing network architecture while ensuring security and efficiency.

Career Progression for System Administrators

  1. 1
    Entry-Level/Pre-System Administration Roles: Starting positions might be Support Specialist or Technical Support, where they learn about system configuration, maintenance, and support.
  2. 2
    Junior System Administrator: Individuals at this stage assist senior administrators, handle system backups, and manage user accounts while learning the nuances of the role.
  3. 3
    System Administrator: With experience, they take on full responsibility for maintaining system efficiency, security, and functionality.
  4. 4
    Senior System Administrator/System Engineer: At this stage, they manage complex environments, often overseeing other system administrators and planning for system expansions and upgrades.
  5. 5
    IT Manager/Systems Manager: As they move into management, they become responsible for overseeing the organization’s entire IT infrastructure and may play a role in strategic planning and development.

Career progression for both Network and System Administrators is not strictly linear, and the stages outlined above are general steps that professionals might take as they advance in their careers. The exact titles, responsibilities, and progression can differ widely based on the size and type of the organization, the complexity of its IT infrastructure, and its specific operational needs.

In addition to that, professionals might carve out niche specializations or move laterally into different IT roles, depending on their interests and emerging technological trends within the industry.

Network Administrator Vs System Administrator: US Salary Comparison

Typically, Network Administrators and System Administrators have comparable salary ranges, but this can fluctuate based on experience, skills, and the specific responsibilities of the role in different organizations.

In the United States, entry-level Network Administrators can anticipate earning a starting salary in the ballpark of $50,000 annually. Similarly, entry-level System Administrators may see starting salaries around $52,000 per year, depending on various factors.

As they accumulate experience and expertise, these professionals can expect a steady rise in their income. Seasoned Network Administrators can earn anywhere from $70,000 to over $90,000, while experienced System Administrators might see salaries ranging from $72,000 to upwards of $100,000 annually.

Keep in mind: Salaries in both roles can be significantly influenced by a multitude of factors, including geographic location (with higher salaries often found in cities with a higher cost of living), the size and sector of the employing company, and the specific qualifications and certifications held by the individual.

Network Administrator vs. System Administrator: FAQ

Q: Is a System Administrator the same as a Network Administrator?

No. While both roles manage crucial aspects of an organization's IT infrastructure, a System Administrator focuses on the day-to-day operations and maintenance of servers and system configurations, while a Network Administrator concentrates on the overall network, its performance, and security.

Q: Which role requires more in-depth technical expertise?

Both roles require substantial technical expertise, but in different areas. Network Administrators need deep knowledge about networking protocols, routers, switches, and firewall configurations. System Administrators need to understand operating systems, server hardware, and system software.

Q: Who takes care of software installations and updates in an organization?

Typically, System Administrators handle software installations, updates, and patches on servers and workstations to ensure systems run smoothly and securely.

Q: Who manages user accounts and permissions?

Both might be involved. System Administrators often manage user accounts on servers and systems, while Network Administrators handle network-level access and permissions.

Q: Can one person be effective in handling both roles in a larger corporation?

In larger corporations, the complexity and volume of tasks typically require specialized roles. While one person might have knowledge in both areas, it's generally more efficient and safer to have dedicated professionals for each role.

Q: Who is responsible for data backups and disaster recovery?

System Administrators usually handle data backups, ensuring that crucial data is regularly backed up and can be restored. However, in the broader context of disaster recovery, including network failover or rerouting, Network Administrators play a vital role.

Q: Which role deals more with external vendors or third-party services?

Both might interact with vendors, but the context differs. Network Administrators might deal with ISPs, hardware vendors, or cloud networking services, while System Administrators could be in touch with software providers, server hardware vendors, or cloud service platforms.

Q: Who is responsible for cybersecurity in an organization?

Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility. While Network Administrators focus on network security aspects like firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and VPNs, System Administrators ensure server security, OS patches, and software vulnerabilities are addressed.

Q: Which role is more user-facing or interacts more with employees?

System Administrators often have more direct interactions with users, assisting with software installations, system access, or hardware issues. Network Administrators, while they do interact with users, especially during network outages or issues, might have a more behind-the-scenes role in larger organizations.

We hope you enjoyed our article on the differences between the role of a Network Administration and a System Administrator.

If your company is looking for IT professionals and you are interested in IT recruitment or IT staff augmentation, please contact us and we will be happy to help you find the right person for the job.

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