Cloud Computing Promises New Opportunities For IT Personnel

Where do you find the real value in the data center?

As technologists, we get our thrills from the latest application release, add-on, or widget. It’s the nature of the beast. But, it’s not the new features or advanced capabilities that deliver the real value to the data center; it’s the IT personnel who wield the tools. A data center is only as good as its staff.

As discussed in a previous post about filling the IT skills gap, as technology evolves, so do the skill sets needed to harness the promise of cloud computing. Fortunately, for those people whose pay check depends on it, the trend leans strongly toward retraining rather than replacing existing staff on the new concepts and technologies that make up the cloud. But, it is not only the hard skill needs that have changed; soft skill requirements have changed too. New personas have been emerging around cloud and tenant administration. Additionally, it should come as no surprise that the business analyst function has seen a rebirth given the interest in Big Data analytics for business intelligence.

Automation Quickens the Pace

The move to private cloud is often quick. According to the recently published InformationWeek Private Cloud Vision Vs. Reality (April 2012) report, more than four-fifths of the respondents surveyed (82%) claimed the transition took 18 months or less while more than half (54%) cited less than a year to implement a private cloud. This means there is possibly not enough time to identify, recruit, and on-board new talent with this rate of change. It comes as no surprise then that 90% of the respondents in this survey reported that their organizaitons trained existing staff rather than recruited new talent. Though, one might conjecture about the 10% that did not make the transition. The move to cloud might have been a convenient time for management to both clean house and augment with people possessing skills not to be gained in a timely manner through training existing personnel. Regardless of the reason, when the move to the private cloud occurs in your data center, you probably want to be counted among the 90%.

What’s the rush?

Virtualization and cloud technologies automate many of the previously time-consuming tasks of installing, provisioning, and upgrading applications as well as increasingly network and storage resources, quickening the time to service. The data center has always been app-oriented, but now many of the infrastructure tasks that took up the bulk of the time have been simplified and accelerated through automation.

Data Center as Value Center

In a recent post, I equated the data center to a profit center. Maybe, value center would be the better term. With cloud computing, IT is moved from the expense side of the ledger to revenue, contributing directly to the bottom line. Not surprisingly, with this change in mindset, some of the new roles are more akin to roles found in business groups with revenue responsibilities. These new roles define products (e.g. product managers) and manage services for users (e.g. tenant administrators).

Let’s take a look at some of these emerging roles and some of the hard and soft skills they require, keeping in mind that the focus here is on jobs and skills needed to define and present new services, as well as analyze the data harnessed in the cloud model. Cloud infrastructure roles emerged awhile back and functions such as cloud architects who develop, deploy, and maintain the cloud, as well as the cloud administrators who assist in cloud deployment and cloud operators who maintain the health of the cloud continue to grow and evolve.

  • Product Managers: Much like their externally-focused counterparts, IT product managers define service catalog offerings with help from cloud architects. IT product managers need the ability to assess business unit needs just like a traditional product manager would assess a potential consumer market. Though IT and the business units are all part of the same organization, the threat of competition is real because many business units vote with their money looking to public cloud alternatives when they cannot find the services they want in-house in a timely manner.
  • Tenant Administrators: This function works with cloud administrators to manage tenant on-boarding establishing user credentials, groups, and permissions for certain services. They are responsible for establishing and maintaining the end-user self-service portals. Tenant administrators need customer-service skills to deal with the demands (and complaints) of their clients, as well as the know-how to provision and manage their cloud services delivery platform.
  • Web-based Programmers: In a lot of ways the application orientation drives new skill needs. Once cloud technologies get installed, and apps get deployed, the work goes into maintaining, upgrading and appending apps in service. Web-based programmers require skills more common to desktop teams on the edge than data center administrators and operations people. While traditional programming jobs may be in decline or gone, working with Web-based interfaces and design models like REST and newer, knowledge of agile programming languages like Ruby are in demand.
  • Business Analysts: With the cloud, the focus shifts from how to collect, store, and present data to what to do with it. Unlike COBOL or FORTAN programmers, business analysts are now experiencing a rebirth. Traditional business intelligence (BI) skills are in demand albeit with the new moniker of data analytics. BI today also requires new skills like dealing with applications based on technologies such as Hadoop for deciphering large amounts of unstructured data from Web traffic and social network chatter. Similar to the Buick ad, this is not your father’s business intelligence. But, some tried and true intangible skills still go a long way. It takes considerable skill, not to mention patience, to sometimes pull the data needs out of executives who may intuitively know they need more information but not necessarily be able to articulate exactly what they want.

Educate Me

Data centers need to re-train staff. But, there is not always enough time to head to the classroom. In fact, most look to specific technical training programs or self-directed studies. Data center personnel really are the knowledge base and their skills a differentiator in an increasingly important business function. Though the trend lands heavily on retraining existing staff, IT personnel should not be assumptive but rather proactive in acquiring the right skills to move into new roles whether in cloud infrastructure or in service definition and delivery, Web-based programming, or business analytics.

About the Author: Mark Prahl