Application Developers Take Center Stage

Are programmers still in demand in today’s data center?

Some studies may lead you to believe that career opportunities for programmers may be waning, but don’t believe them. A new breed of coder is emerging in the marketplace, and is in high demand right now since scarce in number. These professionals tend to be a younger crowd, and agnostic toward compute, networking, and storage technologies. Instead, they are more oriented to mobile platforms, and skilled in Web-based technologies common to cloud architectures.

These application developers are also more likely to be aligned to the executive office than the back office. This orientation means new apps can go to public cloud providers that can deliver infrastructure more quickly and economically than IT. Savvy compute, networking, and storage vendors need to appeal to the lines of business and developers as well as IT, and do what they can to make hybrid or private cloud models possible in-house in order to stay at the top of their game.

In High Demand

While interest in programmers coding to legacy systems continues to decline, interest in application developers able to wield new technologies is on the rise. According to the recent InformationWeek Application Development Pros Write Their Own Tickets report, more than half of the organizations surveyed (54%) cite an up to 10% increase in application development staff over the next two years. Interestingly, more than a third of the respondents (39%) report a planned increase of up to 30% in the same time period.

Mobile Apps Oriented

Mobile devices, especially tablets, are getting more prevalent, and lines of business are looking for new ways to leverage this emerging medium to better equip knowledge workers, and to do commerce. Mobility means new form factors, and considerations such as wireless and Web-based access. Developers working on mobile applications are working with object storage on the backend and using Web-oriented APIs based on SOAP/REST design models and coding in Ruby, Smalltalk, or for iOS.

Motivated and Collaborative

The new breed of application developers tends to be self-motivated, picking up skills as needed and demonstrating proficiency through successfully completing high-profile projects. Training is a constant and required, but more often self-directed than a formal classroom education. Industry certifications as an indicator of competence ranked low in importance in the InformationWeek survey. Most of the respondents (85%) indicated industry certifications were not important. Of course, this view might change if and when demand subsides and opportunities get more competitive. For now, it is more the norm that the application developers keep pace on their own with mobile and tablet technologies and stay conversant in cloud technologies, security, and Big Data analytics, as well as the lines of businesses (e.g. healthcare, finance) that they work in.

While the technical skills matter, soft skills are also important. Mobile apps may be new applications but many lines of business applications are just as often new applications as they are a composite of legacy systems requiring developers to work across functions. Teamwork is essential and good communications skills necessary to ensure application meet users’ needs and are delivered in a timely manner.

Inclined Toward the Public Cloud

IT organizations have the imperative to be more efficient and agile. They operate more as a business, and contribute as a profit center would, though ‘value center’ may be the more appropriate term. This orientation means application development and deployment needs to be thought of in terms of cost and time to market.

Public cloud alternatives are attractive when compared to in-house IT because expenses are operational (OPEX) with the public cloud rather than capital (CAPEX) like with an internal data center. Additionally, more of the provisioning and delivery functions are automated in public clouds than with internal IT, further driving down expenses.

Application developers are agnostic to the underlying technology, only requiring that the technologies be available to support the environments being built—and in the time they need to deliver an application. These technologies which can include, but are not limited to, REST-based APIs, mixed storage types, and support for mobility languages are not always available in the legacy data center, pushing these developers to look elsewhere. For project managers, public clouds have appeal, not only for the support for the technologies needed for a project, but for the lower costs afforded by a services approach to computing characteristic of public clouds. For example, according to recently published IDC white paper The Business Value of Amazon Web Services Accelerates Over Time (July 2012), public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services can replace an average of 400 servers per customer and lower overall storage costs per terabyte (TB) by 25% when compared to in-house deployments. A typical data center would probably be hard pressed to deliver similar savings if still operating in silos with applications tightly aligned to compute, networking, and/or storage resources.

Vendors Beware

Application developer needs have to be met.  Public cloud providers seem to have figured out how to satisfy this new crowd by leveraging the technologies inherent in their offerings (e.g. REST-based APIs, class-of-service catalogs, pay-as-you-go pricing models, and resources on-demand).

Similarly, many internal IT departments have gotten wise and are moving in the direction of internal private clouds or a hybrid model combining the best of internal IT, especially if required for compliance needs, and public clouds to deliver infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). Some IT departments are retooling on their own, working with internal cloud architects to evolve their infrastructures to cloud models; other organizations have hired third-party integrators to guide them on the journey.

Regardless of the approach, these enterprises often look to their strategic compute, networking, and storage providers for additional guidance and for solutions. To meet the demands of these new cloud models, these vendors need to evolve their technologies to address application developers. Infrastructure vendors need to provide APIs based on the REST design model, and service catalogs with aggregated pools of compute, network, and storage resources.

Other needs pertaining to private clouds are more oriented to data center administrators. Infrastructure vendors need to fulfill these needs too around centralized management, security, and metering and chargeback/show-back.

Delivering on the needs of developers might be more in the comfort zone of compute and server vendors, but it’s a new area for storage vendors. Dealing with lines of business though, is not necessarily new territory.

Application developers have taken center stage and their needs must be served. IT vendors not accustomed to conversations with developers need to amend products and messages to reach these influential users.

About the Author: Mark Prahl