Rachel has asked us (Simon & Andrew) to identify the key skills that will help your career survive and thrive as businesses start to transition some or all of their services to the cloud. We aren’t suggesting you learn all of these, but if you focus on at least one technology plus  the ‘soft’ skills below your future will be more secure as a result.  We’ve also pulled in some resources to get you started.  

Authentication and Identity

No matter where your data and services are, your users are going to need to get at them, and to do that they need to identify who they are and be accorded the appropriate privileges.  Traditionally Active Directory has been providing this service in the local data centre and has been extended over the years to allow users and services on other operating systems e.g. Linux and Apple Macs, and more recently iPads, to work seamlessly across them to get mail, docs and services.  Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS), extends this interoperability to the cloud - not just  Microsoft’s, but third parties like SalesForce - and supports OpenID used by Yahoo Google and others. 

To find out more:

Database

I am an ex-DBA so my top recommendation is to get to know SQL Server. SQL Server has provided me with a great career and is another area of technology that won’t be much changed by the cloud.  First of all no matter where the data is, DBAs will be needed in some capacity to manage it.  Not only that but databases are only ever-increasing as storage becomes cheaper and cheaper.

Not every database will move to the cloud, and alongside the CloudPower messaging from Microsoft you’ll also see that in partnership with the server manufacturers there's a raft of new appliances specifically designed for different workloads of SQL Server e.g. business intelligence, data warehousing and OLTP (On-Line Transaction Processing), so there will still be some high-end databases that remain un-virtualised. Many organisations will be moving to hybrid clouds – I can see many web applications having a SQL Azure backend database, and SQL Azure does actually remove some of the work of the DBA e.g. high availability and configuration.  However it also presents new challenges such as synching data between cloud and local, audit, query optimisation.

A final thought: typically 12% mention SQL Server as a skill on any of the top job sites.

The best resources for learning what SQL Server can do are

Process and automation

Given that cloud is supposed to be about agility you would think that standardising business processes and adopting ITIL standards for process management might be at odds with each other.  The answer is simply process automation – taking those standard procedures and making them happen across the disparate systems in your infrastructure.  So as well as looking at getting ITIL accredited you might want to think about putting your processes into code.   You could become a PowerShell/PowerCLI guru and write miles of code to do this but there is a better way -  System Center Orchestrator (SCOrch), the glue and gaffer tape in the System Center armoury.  This allows you to hook your help desk up to the hardware, the hypervisor (theirs or ours), the virtual machine , the operating system and the application itself and map out your process so the business can understand it and sign it off.  This then gets rid of the drudgery, leaving you to get on with the new project work that's been backing up on your desk over the last year.

It's an interesting time to get into this space, as the System Center lineup is in the process of being completely overhauled. There are beta releases of some of the new versions available now including SCorchVirtual Machine Manager, Operations Manager,  and  Configuration Manager, with more due over the next couple of months.  This will mean more detailed training on the Microsoft Virtual Academy, as well as various events we will be running in the UK this autumn.

Networking

Not really my world but the network engineers are all doing very well out of the cloud, the storage explosion, and the challenges of running lots of virtual machines on consolidated physical servers.   

Marketing

I put this in partly to be controversial but mostly because it’s too important to be left to the marketing department.  The IT department and its members in particular need to be much better at promoting their work to the business and setting out the services on offer. On an individual level you need to build your internal brand, hopefully as a can-do trusted advisor who understands the business.  Some of this is part of the day job - the way you respond to requests and follow through to see that your users are happy - some of it should be proactive, like going to business meetings to brief them on your latest projects and ideas.  Building your brand outside the office can also be useful, so joining special interest groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, and helping and asking for advice on Twitter and forums can establish your credibility for your next role.

Cloud Connectivity

Not so much a networking role as skills around bringing different parts of cloud architectures together as one holistic unit.  I think it's difficult for businesses to identify solutions that can be "pure cloud" beyond those Internet-based services that they moved long ago and new solutions they create from scratch - a far more realistic approach is hybrid cloud in which public and private clouds are stitched together.  In addition to the networking and identity/authentication skills above, there's a strong need for people who understand the plumbing.  That is, how to connect a cloud service to data stored in a private data centre or how to connect two public clouds together.  Parts of this role depend on having some developer skills and some IT pro skills.

Systems Management

You'll see increasingly from Microsoft that management of the public cloud is a BIG deal.  It's not just about a place to put something and have it run cheaply (although it partly is), it's also about being able to make sure that what happens there is what you expect is happening.  To that end you'll see more and more that Windows Azure and System Center work well together. Right now the best thing to do is to try out monitoring a Windows Azure application using this evaluation for Windows Azure monitoring with SCOM.  You don't even need an application to monitor as there's one included in the eval.  As we move forward to System Center 2012 you'll see even more deep integration and you can try the betas for System Center here: System Center Configuration Manager 2012 Beta 2 and System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 Beta

Data Security Architecture

Deep understanding of data and what it contains has always been a pivotal part of security, and this is going to become even more important in the future.  We currently live in a world without harmonised data laws and that means it's hard to place all your data into the public cloud immediately. What you can do is place safe portions of it there.  By understanding the data you know what's safe to place in the cloud and what could create too much risk for your business to accept.  This role is much more about providing insight back to the business to enable it to make better decisions about what to do, rather than preventing it from doing anything.  It's important not to paralyse your business by over analysing risk without understanding of reward. 

Summary

The list above doesn't really look all that different from one we'd have written a couple of years ago; the roles and the content of those roles have changed somewhat. but guess what - that's the nature of our industry.  Technology changes.  The really big shift here is one that's been happening for years, it's the integration of business skills and understanding them as a core of the technology skill set.  Are we seeing this spread happen across all segments?  To answer that lets look at things simplistically - big businesses and small - big having large dedicated IT depts and small having as many as four IT guys.  IT guys in small businesses have always had to have many strings to their bow, often requiring them to have more general skill sets and giving them less time.  These folks have always needed broad business knowledge as a part of that skill set. For them, cloud technologies, especially public cloud, are likely to free up more time to do more interesting things.  In large IT teams business skills were often forsaken for deep, deep technical skill sets that the business didn't understand so they needed more people to translate those deep skills back to the business.  Today we see a shift towards the end users becoming more tech savvy and so the need for translators is lessened as there's a smaller gap for the deep, deep techies to fill when translating things back to the business.  It looks as if that gap is shrinking further as some of the clunky work done at that deep level is automated with the cloud, again giving the deepest of techies more time to do what the business actually values.

Further resources:

Microsoft Virtual Academy

Microsoft Learning