Is Cloud Boon or Bane for IT Staffers?

Mar 10, 2011

Pam Baker

In an industry that has seen thousands of jobs leave for foreign shores and cheaper labor, it is understandable there is much wringing of the hands over how many more IT jobs might be lost to the cloud.

"I have an acquaintance that calls it the 'Corp Tech Pocalypse,'" laughed Steven Savage, a technical project manager in gaming who writes, speaks, and coaches on "fannish" and geeky careers.

But is this really a matter of the four horsemen charging in, or is it simply a matter of the carriage industry going horseless?

"Enterprise IT is akin to assembly line manufacturing for automobiles, while cloud computing is more similar to robotics factory automobile manufacturing," explained Randy Bias Founder and CEO of Cloudscaling. "Low value IT work that can be fully automated will be. Provisioning servers, networks, and storage has no value in a cloud future."

Quid pro quo

The good news is, historically, automation does not eliminate jobs without replacing them with newer ones. The same holds true now. "With the shift to IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, organizations need fewer administrators to handle system and network related tasks, but need more solutions-engineers that understand how to interact with the various cloud services," explained Telemachus Luu, CTO of NephoScale, an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provider.

In other words, the threat to some IT jobs is very real. Sys admins, to name but one job title on the way out, are done except for packing their personals. However, at the same time, the need for highly skilled IT workers is ballooning. There will be new jobs; many of which have yet to be defined. The underlying message is clear -- those in IT that improve their skills and stay abreast of the times stay employed. Those that don't join the unemployment line. Even so, a few remnant jobs of the "good old days" will hang around for a while longer.

"Even in the most extreme case, which we have yet to see, where nearly all of an organization's applications are migrated to the cloud, some semblance of IT systems will remain resident at the user locations," said Kris Domich, principal data center consultant at Dimension Data, a multi-billion dollar IT services and solutions provider.

The obvious onsite need will be a reliable local area network and telephony (although in many organizations these are one in the same), internet connection and WAN connection to the cloud. "Of course local printing and other basic office functions, and plant management systems must also persist," he said.

The "To be Automated" list

Anything application related, that is application and database servers, storage arrays and most backup/recovery subsystems, will move to the cloud. As the supporting infrastructure moves with it, there will be little or no need for onsite support of physical systems. "But the need to manage the applications does not necessarily go away and highly depends on what type and the quantity of cloud services an organization buys," explained Domich.

Basically, anything that can be bought as a service (e.g. infrastructure, software, platforms) by definition deletes the need for internal resources to support that service. "After all, the provisioning, operations and management of that service is a large part of what you're buying," he said. "IT personnel will be required to develop migration strategies and to ensure that applications are compatible and properly ported to cloud resources, but that is likely a temporary need at best."

It will be common, especially in the early adoption years, for the IT infrastructure to resemble a traditional outsourced data center, i.e., collocation. The internal IT staff will still manage all aspects of IT but receives infrastructure and/or platforms as a service (PaaS).

"All security, applications and data remain managed by internal personnel," said Domich. "That model has worked well in the past and will likely be attractive in cases where shedding physical infrastructure in exchange for virtual resources from the cloud makes good business sense."

However, it is important to remember that the cloud does not magically eradicate work -- it merely shifts the workload from the mundane to the complex.

"Realizing the benefits of virtualization and cloud computing depends upon the ability to seamlessly move workloads between data centers and clouds, with highly sophisticated automation handling the differences between physical and virtual machines, various hypervisors, and different systems," explained James Strayer, VP of product management at Racemi, a company that builds server imaging and cloud migration technology.

"All of this has to be accomplished without requiring hundreds of golden images, expensive service contracts, or customer investment in increasing amounts of valuable IT labor to support rising provisioning needs," he said.

Automation technology aims to provide greater provisioning speed and flexibility so that IT professionals may focus on more productive tasks. "The need for IT people doesn't go away, but their roles may change, and there is potential for their day-to-day work to get much better," said Strayer.

New governance

As noted before, what automation takes away it usually makes up for in new job creation. "The potential for this increases, as an organization becomes more invested in the cloud, for a select few that are capable of stepping up," said Domich. Higher adoption of cloud for platforms, software, and infrastructure, he said, is also going to introduce new IT governance paradigms.

"These paradigms may exist in a non-cloud environment at subtle levels but will assuredly become more apparent the more an organization adopts the cloud," he said.

The ability to evaluate a cloud offering against a set of business and technical objectives and to be qualified enough to determine if the offering will preserve the efficiencies gained by investment in the cloud (i.e., will not introduce additional management or operational burdens, degrade the user experience, or pin the business into a corner or other sense of dependence) will be highly prized, he said.

"As technology gets easier, it gets more used. As it gets more used, people start to understand how valuable it can be to their everyday lives. As it gets more valuable to their everyday lives they will use it more. As they use it more they need expertise in how to use it better," said Timothy Gillen CNE, MCP, president & CEO of Terrapin Networks.

In the end, IT will remain the same in that its function remains to make the business easier, faster and more profitable. No one outside IT ever really knew or cared how that happened, only that it did.

"Users never knew where the servers or data center was anyway, so whether it is in the cloud or off in a server room is irrelevant," explained Gillen. "Business technology is there to support the organization's main mission and the staff, and really nothing else. IT workers have to be sure to not lose sight of that."

A prolific and versatile writer, Pam Baker's published credits include numerous articles in leading publications including, but not limited to: Institutional Investor magazine,, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, Linux World, Internet News, E-Commerce Times, LinuxInsider, CIO Today Magazine, NPTech News (nonprofits), MedTech Journal, I Six Sigma magazine, Computer Sweden, NY Times, and Knight-Ridder/McClatchy newspapers. She has also authored several analytical studies on technology and eight books. Baker also wrote and produced an award-winning documentary on paper-making. She is a member of the National Press Club (NPC), Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and the Internet Press Guild (IPG).

Tags: Cloud, IT jobs, IT culture, IT leaderhsip, cloud strategy,

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