Understanding Changing Roles in the Data Center

Who moved my cheese? In other words, what happened to my job!?

Were you ever just getting comfortable in a job when it changed? Well, look out…it’s happening again.

New IT service models are driving new technologies that span islands of isolation. Storage, network, data base, and application administrators can no longer concern themselves with their own topologies, they must collaborate.

For the most adept and visionary, this phenomena will open up new career opportunities for leaders who can see the big picture and define the future—the cloud architects, data center architects, and virtualization administrators or whatever label you want to assign to the new breed.

For those adverse to change, the need to take a new approach to their jobs will not only be disruptive to their daily routines but also potentially career-limiting or even career-ending depending on attitudes.

It’s a new twist to an old story that gets told time and time again.

A Changing World

It doesn’t seem that long ago but two years have passed since a group of us at EMC were engaged in our annual customer council event. This forum is where we dialog with our customers in a number of cities around the world about a variety of subjects related to EMC core technologies.

All things Cloud were just starting to take flight.

At the time we were hearing about the need to provision replication with storage to give end-users access to gigabytes and the ability to replicate for snapshots, clones, and for protection.

Overall our customers who tend to be predominantly storage administrators were psyched about managing storage and replication from one place.

But, you could see the divide over who was or was not willing to pass this control to the end-user.

Now fast forward to today and everywhere you turn you hear about this as a service or that as a service—and Clouds.

But there were only a few visionaries or those brave enough a couple years back willing to turn the reins over to their internal users; most said maybe in five years…if ever.

Out with the Old, In with the New

IT administrators have long had specialty roles around specific functions such as storage, networks, servers, databases, and applications. Not surprisingly, the titles such as storage administrator fit the roles.

Now, with virtualization and the advent of cloud computing, specialty needs remain but in fewer numbers as consolidation makes more efficient use of existing resources.

What emerges is a new generalist tasked with putting all the compute power together in services to the end-user. These generalists tend to wear many hats.

The specialty roles that remain evolve too. For example, the realm of the storage administrator extends to multi-tenancy concerns like security and delivering storage as a service.

For these emerging roles, there is some training available (like the education programs from EMC).  Here are a couple of the popular new titles and what the roles entail:

Cloud architects: deliver virtualization and cloud designs based on business strategies encompassing all key technical domains such as compute, storage, networking, applications etc. They specialize in designing virtualized infrastructure or IT-as-a-Service.

Data center architects:  play a crucial role in providing domain-specific expertise to complement, expand, and complete the cloud-ready virtualized infrastructure designs. They specialize in the areas of storage networking, information availability, information storage security, and storage service management.

IT administrators need to ask themselves where they want to be in the new world. We’ve seen server administrators evolve into virtualization administrators but what about these new roles.

Some folks will figure out the natural evolution for their function while others will fall by the wayside like many of  the key punch operators who churned out punch cards for data entry before the arrival of computer terminals.

Making it Personal

This scenario reminds me of a recent personal experience that I went through where my other passion lies—in performing live music.

A very talented friend of mine who enjoyed regional success rocking out New England in the 1990s and I got together with the intent to get some other like-minded folks to do a high-quality, part-time project.

Now, once upon a time, when you did this sort of thing you were a member of one band with a well-defined position as singer, lead guitar, drummer or the like. You had a specialty function, not unlike a storage administrator for example.

But, with the new millennium and more diversified entertainment possibilities, more and more musicians became free agents. They play in multiple bands to keep active, sometimes even filling different positions on different instruments in the different bands.

Well, my talented friend couldn’t handle it. You either had to play with us our way and with nobody else or you couldn’t be in the band. Well, you probably know where this story goes.

We got some very talented people to check us out but these people had the vision, and the talent to go wherever they wanted to go and it wasn’t going to be only one place. Sure there are probably some great people out there still doing it the old way. However, they’re not that easy to find because specialists in one genre are just not that plentiful.

In the end, we called it quits.

The talented folks who tried out with us are all touring or booked solid on the local scene; my friend on the other hand is sitting on the sidelines at home. Now, he might fare well as a solo act but he just as well might not.

A New Kind of Rock Star

The net of all this is simple and timeless…if you can’t change with the times the times will go on without you. IT roles are changing along with the skill sets required to do the job.

So, for some in IT, ask yourself… Do you want to be your own rock star(virtualization administrator, cloud architect, data center architect, fill in the blank)—or the key punch operator?

About the Author: Mark Prahl