Simon May

Client and cloud

June, 2011

  • 3 new heroes in next generation IT Departments

    I’ve already highlighted how IT departments are going to change over the next few years a few times and what some people in those departments are going to be doing as their roles inevitably change but there are going to be some new roles that appear too.  These roles will start to shape how the IT department works for the next few years and, just like all IT jobs are, they’re a response to the changes going on in the business and in the market.  As the industry chases the promised befits of cloud like reduced cost and increased agility these roles are going to be the new linchpins (as Seth would say) able to cross boundaries and pull leavers.

    They won’t be the only people in the team, they will be new people or people who’ve stepped over from another discipline.

    Cloud integration engineer

    Linking everything together is going to be critical in the future.  I wouldn’t say we’re at cloud version 1.0 yet – we’re probably closer to 0.7 where people are working out how to do cool things, there’s lots of experimentation going on.  As we as an industry marches forward we’re turning over more rocks and identifying new bugs that need squashing.  Who is doing the squashing though depends upon the type of bug but it’s clear that, as with anything new, we’ve got technology blazing a trail and lawmakers and regulators playing catch up.  Add to that mix the fear of vendor lock in that some people have, the fear of giving up “control” and the worries that accompany anything new and you’ve got a mix complex mix of problems to overcome.

    That’s where hero number one, the Cloud Integration Engineer comes to the rescue with his super power – connectivity.  Cloud integration engineers will be adept at connecting public clouds and private clouds to create the now much touted hybrid cloud, part in your sphere of granular control, part in the sphere of vendor management.  These guys will know the technology involved in Windows Azure to a deep enough level to understand how to connect an Azure and an on premises application together (hint they’ll be using Windows Azure Connect).  These guys will also know how to throw up an EC2 instance and have it pull data from a SQL Azure database and they’ll know how to connect Exchange 2010 to Office 365 in a coexistence scenario so that the 2000 guys in a field in Devon get fast internal email over their 256k internet connection whilst the field guys get rapid connections where ever they are around the world.

    Some will be experts in plumbing finished services (SaaS) together using APIs and code to do magic, others will be PowerShell gurus that can provision 100 mailboxes with a single command, others still will make ninja like use of the tooling.  These guys will likely be capable of code but will understand the plumbing of enterprises well enough to make things seamless.  They’ll have a better understanding of security than most developers and IT pros but they’ll be connected to the business so they’ll work as guides to security not gate keepers to access.

    Cloud operations manager

    Operations in the cloud is far simpler than it is with traditional infrastructures, primarily because you don’t need to manage everything at the most granular level.  Managing IT Operations in the Data Centre is about managing servers, making sure they’re up, making sure the hardware is working, making sure they have enough memory and CPU for their highest load ( + 15% or so) , for some this will be the old days, but for most it’s today – even if they’re virtualised.  Virtual doesn’t make resource management go away – it just changes the economics.

    With the cloud you still need to manage resource and ensure availability to some extent – but it is an easier job.  You don’t need to make sure that servers have enough memory any more, you need to make a choice about scaling up or out on demand.  Scaling up is adding more servers, scaling out is about adding more powerful servers.  It takes intelligence to make that call, it takes understanding of the business value of scaling, both the process of scaling and the decision can be automated though.  To crystallise that lets take the ever-so-much over used tap metaphor of cloud.

    In the tap metaphor we equate supply to a tap, when you turn it on the tap runs and you get the resource you want – cool.  However you pay for what you use, so what happens if you’re not doing anything useful with your water, if it’s just running down the drain?  If you equate the tap to a cloud service and the water to compute resource you get the picture – especially when you consider that taps get broken, develop leaks or occasionally a rogue plumber installs them.  You need to ensure that the capacity you use is being used for business – that’s where the Cloud Operations Manager comes to the rescue with their power of insight.

    These guys will be able to use their close business relationship to determine when it’s right to allow the tap to run free, and when it’s time to turn it down.  When you’re being DDOS attacked and when you’re seeing a sales boom, when you’re internal users are hammering your SharePoint because the company just announced pay rises or because Bob from accounts accidentally posted his personal photos to the whole company he looks funny.

    Cloud Operations Managers will also be watching what’s happening to ensure it’s sensible and complies with policy (which is obviously boring and stifles innovation / agility) but who else is going to make sure that when Bob in accounts leaves he doesn’t take his Docs account with him and oh the company looses all that information – that knowledge, the business intelligence, the competitive edge – just because the employ left taking their personal documents with them in cloud storage.  They have the super-power of understanding.

    IT Marketing and Communications Officer

    Communication is why businesses succeed and fail, you can have a great plan, sound strategy, superb revenue streams but if your team can’t communicate they can’t succeed.  When IT is one of the resources in the mix that allows your organisation to get things done communication about it’s benefits is essential.  If you’re going to guide your organisation to make the most informed choices and to make the most of what they’ve paid for you need someone to be evangelising the options.

    We’ve tried this as an industry before, numerous times over but a skill set that allows your IT department to market it’s wares it’s what’s needed.  You need your people to know that they will benefit from using cloud storage because it’s pervasive and lets them access their information anywhere.  Previously we as IT guys would probably have said that in terms of “to reduce the load on the file server so that we can save 2gb of storage” – terms that don’t matter to the end user.  Marketers are adept at making things relevant to the their market, internally this means translating, explaining and engaging a user community.  I’ve seen this done a few times, often under different banners with differing levels of success – however it’s worked best when a marketeer got involved.  Essentially these folks will breed cooperation.

    Summary

    So there we have it, three new roles, superpowers of connectivity, understanding and cooperation, which when you think of it don’t sound that super do they?  By the way all of these roles are available on job sites today.  Whilst researching I found a role paying £120k per anum doing Windows Azure integration with existing systems, Operations Manager roles that commonly reference SaaS/IaaS/PaaS and private cloud and for the IT Marketing roles are hidden away in specialist recruitment circles – which is always a good sign.

    If you think that these new roles will add cost to IT then, sorry, you’re wrong and for two reasons.  The first being that they will possibly not be part of IT itself, IT will virtualise these roles into other areas of the organisation to provide deep integration with the day to day reality of what the organisation does.  Secondly they’ll be saving money or making it, IT Marketing Officer will be extracting every last penny from the move to cloud based email like Exchange Online, the Cloud Operations Manager will be ensuring things stay on track and costs don’t scale out of control and the Cloud Integration Engineer will be helping make money by doing new innovative stuff – day in, day out – creating competitive advantage.

    As an IT Pro how do you get there?  Learn.  Learn about virtualisation, learn about cloud.  We have webcasts, jumpstarts, downloads, resources and you probably have free training hours if you have Software Assurance or an Enterprise Agreement.  Us it.

  • How the public cloud affects your IT Department

    No one can fail to see how much impact the ideas of cloud are having on our organisations and as IT Professionals the most direct impact we feel is on us, on those we work with, on our IT Department.  It doesn’t matter whether your “IT”, “IS”, “ICT”, “Information Management”, “IM” or whatever 2 or 3 letter abbreviations you have the cloud is starting to have an impact.  Is it bad?  Is it good?  Two questions that only only time will reveal the answers to but there are changes afoot.  It doesn’t matter whether your company has started to embrace cloud yet – eventually it will – in this article I’m focusing on how it’s going to change some of those specific roles in your IT Department.

    Before we do that though lets just add some cloud clarity so that we know where we are.  The cloud is any technology that enables on-demand rapid provision and release of resources that are highly available and shared between a group of users.  For the purpose of this article we’re talking about resources shared between people who do not necessarily belong to the same organisation a.k.a the public cloud.  Public cloud is arguably one of the top two technology trends affecting your IT Department today with the second being consumerisation – all those “unmanaged” devices that are popping up and you’re now being required to support.

    You are now probably seeing demand for some of the following types of services:

    • Web based email
    • Web based file sharing
    • Web based CRM
    • Web based line of business software
    • Web based support software
    • Cloud based hosting

    And in addition you’ve probably started to notice that you’re being excluded from conversations.  A macro level trend is going on around you, your users have started to be tech savvy enough to make IT decisions without you (or at least they think they have – you’ll obviously have to come to the rescue!)  One of the interesting key words just before that bullet is demand the trend of consumerisation has had an impact here and your users are now demanding that you provide them with IT Services on their terms. 

    If this hasn’t happened to you yet it, will, it probably but someone forgot to tell IT.  This trend is most apparent when information starts leaking from your organisation through people emailing stuff home to work on because they have better tools. 

    Think of a train hurtling down the tracks, if you’re in front of that train the futures not so bright…if you’re on it then it’s a better place.  That analogy is very close to home for some IT departments – I say it’s time to get on the train rather than trying to stop the thing with your bare hands.  So what does it mean for the life of some of our favourite IT Department people:

    The helpdesker (a.k.a. Frontline support analyst)

    As the first point of contact in the IT Department the helpdesk staff have always been a linchpin of the team, taking calls, taking flack.  It’s part of the job.  Most people start out here and learn one of the key skills that’s always seen them through the career they made: customer service.  And you know what, this is a growth area with public cloud.  Very few public cloud operators will provide end user support, they normally provide level 2 support (which tends to materialise in IT depts as level 3) meaning that they won’t answer user queries such as “how do I do x”, “I’ve deleted this email, how do I get it back”.  These folks provide a 2nd key skill too – business knowledge – even if you’ve outsourced your helpdesk you’ll find that the best operators know your business better than the worst.  I personally am starting to see a trend of “insourcing” where the helpdesk is being brought home.

    The desktop technician (a.k.a. 2nd level support, a.k.a “Dave in IT”)

    Desktop technicians are still seen as the face of IT by most end users, even if they don’t see them that often.  Most avoid giving out their direct line for fear of being stalked by Sally in accounts who just cannot use Excel – I know I’ve been there for many (joyous) years.  Again these folks know the people they help, they provide deep business knowledge and have early warning radar  and they combine a level of technical skill that makes most users think of them as heroes but interestingly they don’t get many calls from the younger people in the organisation but they do spend time with them exchanging stories around the coffee/tea/water/cigarette machine/shed.  And they’re friends with them on Facebook.

    The desktop guys aren’t going anywhere though because the cloud doesn’t take the desktop away, you still need a machine to access it….well not so much.  In the future the desktop guys will spend more time working on other peoples kit than the companies.  They’ll spend more time ensuring people can work safely for the company with their own kit and less fixing problems as the end users naturally become more adept at fixing problems.

    The server huggers

    These guys have been the centre of the world for a good few years, they have the hard job – running the infrastructure – occasionally harbouring a small god complex (I am very much guilty).  The folks need to make the biggest change to their world, if you are one you need to be learning new skills day after day to keep up.  You need to know about virtualisation, what it is and what it isn’t (a magic bullet), you need to know about management technology, you need to know about public cloud platforms and infrastructures and the differences.  You also need to start to understand cost models (yuck) and you need to know how to connect both public cloud and private cloud resources.  You might not see this right now but people are going outside of your team to get hold of servers to do their job.

    There are possibly people within your organisation using a personal credit card to setup a business critical ecommerce system, or store some data in the public cloud…without your governance.  It will become impossible to do anything about it because it will be too business critical so you’ll need to focus on connecting and managing it and ultimately on governing it.

    The IT Manager

    You’re probably going to meetings and being asked for more by the business (or they might have stopped inviting you).  Before it’s too late though you need to switch up what your team is doing, get them out from in front of the train and bear their whole weight down on making public cloud work for your business.  Why?  Because public cloud WON’T work for your business.  Not in isolation, you’ve got to couple it to what you do already, those servers and services your IT department is already running at 99.999999% uptime (+ added LOVE).  You’re role will be to become the leader of a group of trusted advisors to your business, a group of cloud savvy people who deeply understand the technology and who deeply understand the business.

    Every aspect of the business is different the accountants want different things to HR who want different things to marketing and the security guy on the front desk.  You can give the accountants systems that don’t require downtime and manual upgrades each year while TAX changes are made – the software provider will do that for you.  You can give HR a web based payroll system whereby a huge data send isn’t required every month at pay run time (whilst everyone holds their breath).  You can give the security guy secure cloud storage and offload the constant video encoding of security camera footage from his PC to the cloud.

    Summary

    There are countless more roles and countless better examples but the idea here is to show you that the world is changing.  You don’t however need to be under the train since we’re at the right point to get in front and help our businesses make better decisions.  There’s no need to loose the technical skills we hold so dear, they just evolve and theirs no need to learn new skills in business analysis or some other discipline it’s just about applying what you know already.

    Really the public cloud is a case of learning about the technology and helping your business apply it…that’s the secret sauce.  Try Windows Azure, Try Office365 and try what other people offer (then come back Smile)