The Blog!Is ‘the cloud” making you concerned for your job?  And by that, I mean, are you primarily working with a product or technology that may soon be cloudified? 

“Cloudified?”

Okay.. I’m making up words again.  But I think you know what I’m talking about.  Are you working with a technology that is seeing a big shift from running in-house to being purchased as a service from someone/somewhere else?  For example, if I were a Microsoft Exchange administrator, and that’s all that I did, I might start being a little concerned if my company was considering a purchase of BPOS or Office365.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s a real concern that many IT Pros have whenever the word “cloud” is used.  Is that server or that device or that product that I support  going to be supported faster/cheaper/better elsewhere?  Quite possibly.

Power for your future!But is this really any different than any other new technology shift we’ve ever seen?  It’s one of the reasons why the world calls these kinds of shifts "disruptive”.  It messes with and shakes-up our comfort-zone.  But of all people, we IT Professionals should be better than anyone at adapting to change, because change is the nature of our business.  We make adjustments when better solutions are available to us.  We had to start fresh with new products or even new versions of products, because to improve means some amount of change.  Perhaps those changes weren’t as foundational to our way of looking at or working with computing infrastructure as what “the cloud” is bringing us, but they were adjustments nonetheless. 

The idea of “the cloud”, of cloud computing, of purchasing (or delivering) IT-as-a-Service is not going to go away.  Small-to-midsize companies are saving big money by replacing servers with online services.  Software and web service companies are building their applications on server platforms housed in remote datacenters.  Your own datacenter has probably transitioned to using virtualization in some large and ever-increasing way, and the flexibility it gives us as a platform for dynamic IT is extending beyond the walls of our own server rooms.  It’s a very good thing for our businesses, but it’s a scary proposition for the guy or gal who maintains the server racks.

“So what do you suggest, Kevin?”

I do have a couple of recommendations, but let me add a disclaimer here first.  My suggestions aren’t going to fit every situation.  Yours might be a unique one.  I only hope to encourage you, but I won’t pretend to have everyone’s best answer.  Your mileage may vary. 

That said, here is what I suggest:

  1. First of all, don’t panic!  As I said earlier, you are a rare breed who choose to work with computers.  Your curiosity for computing and how newer and better technology can improve how information moves or how business gets done is the same drive that can help you to master a new skillset. 
  2. Second: It’s very unlikely that your job will disappear immediately just because of a shift to purchasing an online service or shifting virtualized workloads to the cloud.  You still play a valuable role in maintaining the service, and facilitating how it is used in your organization.  And even if your current role is being phased out, you probably have time to add a new skill.  Be open to change, and be watching for new opportunities.
  3. Third: There are so many new and different opportunities for working in IT.  Professionals who also have some business background are becoming more and more desirable.  In fact, many schools have recently adjusted their Computer Science degree programs to include some exposure to business topics, because businesses are asking for it and requiring it.  Also, the number of jobs in the areas of data analysis and business intelligence are increasing.  A person who can manage the company knowledge and build or organize intelligent access to it is worth a lot to a business, no matter where the company’s data happens to live.  And if you have a good foundation in information security, you can expand upon that to become an expert in regulatory compliance.  A big part of compliance has to do with how information is secured, whether in transit or at rest, so you’ve already got a good head-start. 
  4. Jobs relating to “layer zero”, the physical infrastructure, will always be in high demand.  Distributed, cloud-based solutions still require fast and reliable connectivity.  You may not be installing as many server racks, but your network architecture was never more important than it is today.
  5. Another option is training and certifications.  From Microsoft of course the place to go is Microsoft Learning.  Way back in 1994 I started considering a move from Software Engineering to more of an IT focus, and it was my first Microsoft Certified Professional  certification on Windows 3.11 (I’m old!) that started me on the journey I’m still enjoying today.  (Currently MCITP: Server Administrator, MCITP: Enterprise Administrator, and soon-to-be MCITP: Windows Server 2008 R2, Virtualization Administrator.  Yes, I’m bragging.  You should, too.)
  6. Be encouraged!  For most of you this shift is good for your business.  You’ll be able to shift your IT spending to smaller capital investments and more operational, predictable spending.  And soon you’ll be able to reduce your number of mundane maintenance tasks and spend your time on higher-value activities.

I also have an important recommendation for you business leaders and IT Managers…

Train your people!  Encourage and support them in professional growth.  Regularly review not just their performance in their current role, but review and then support their desire to learn new skills or work in other areas of your company.  It’s my opinion, but I know I’m not alone in believing that too many companies are too quick to look outside of their own walls for good people to fill new roles.  It is a good investment to provide as many opportunities for personal growth to your employees as possible.  It doesn’t train-them-out-the-door.  It grows loyalty.  (Though if it does cause them to leave.. well, then you probably didn’t want that ungrateful jerk around anyway.  Yeah, I said it.)  Your Exchange or SharePoint administrator can easily be the Office365 administrator.  The storage administrator can still manage storage in the cloud.  But don’t just throw them at this new wave of technology without giving them the tools they need to succeed; in the form of proper training.

(PS – Did you know that we have resource for IT Managers on the TechNet site?)

What do you think?  Are you worried about what “the cloud” is going to mean to your chosen profession?  Or do you see it as an exciting new opportunity?  Please share your comments.  And make sure to check out Part 3 tomorrow, where I’ll introduce you to the three cloud delivery methods.