UNDERSTANDING SYSTEM ADMINISTRATORS’ WORK PRACTICES AND THE ROLE FOR ENHANCED VISUALIZATIONS IN THEIR TOOLS
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Visualization can be an effective way to explore and understand abstract data. Due to the rapidly changing technological environment of sys admin work and the scale of data involved, enhanced visualizations might provide benefit in this domain; however, despite research efforts, to-date the tools for system administrators (sys admins) minimally employ the use of interactivity in models and provide limited visualizations in tools. This may be because sys admins have a culture of command-line interface (CLI) use that is at odds to the graphical user interface (GUI) that accompanies most tools that incorporate interactive visualizations. We designed a two phase study to gain a better understanding about the work of sys admins, their current tool environment, their preferences for CLI and GUI based tools, and their perspective about how the inclusion of interactive visualizations in tools and system models might enhance their routines. The first phase of contextual inquiries and semi-structured interviews with 37 participants gave us a rich understanding of system admin work practices and their desired functionality for future tools. In the second phase, an on-line survey with 331 sys admins allowed us to generalize our findings. Based on our research, we generated recommendations for desired tool features in each of the sub-domains of sys admin work (i.e., network, virtualization etc.,). We also conducted an analysis of the type of visualizations that could be implemented in future tools to support the challenging nature of sys admin work.