Will cloud computing do away with IT pros?

Cloud computing may change how IT business is done, but does that necessarily translate into lost IT pro jobs?

The buzzword of 2009 seems to be "cloud computing." And it's being fueled by a recession that's taking on the global economy like a prize fighting champ. When you start to look at the bottom line, you might be tempted to move away from capital expenses to a friendlier and more manageable monthly service fee. Hey, it seems to make sense.

But if you keep hearing the words and aren't sure what they mean, your first question might be, "what is this cloud computing?" Well, like "virtualization," cloud computing is a broad term and one that gets tossed around more and more these days -- in fact, it has become part of IT 2.0 buzzword bingo. Typically, it refers to software, services, and resources that operate on computers somewhere out there in the Internet or off in the clouds. Users may not have any knowledge, expertise, or control over the technology infrastructure in the cloud, but that's OK. It's all part of the master plan.

[ Virtualization skill sets are in high demand right now, especially VMware experience | Now is the time to learn more about what cloud computing really means ]

Like any new, game-changing technology, virtualization included, it brings the doom-and-gloom messaging about how this new technology is going to be the end of an era. This is going to be the one that puts good, hard-working folks out of business and on the streets. Why? Because many people out there make it seem as though IT folks have little chance to adapt in this technological world we live in. Sure, there are some IT folks who refuse to give up their DOS, dot-matrix printers, and 300-baud modems. But that isn't the entire breed.

I remember when server virtualization popped up in the early part of 2000. It was black magic, and only a few were considered to have mastered the black arts. As time went on, it too became part of that tired cliche of "doing more with less," and consolidation was all the rage. The fear was that this technology was difficult to learn, IT admins would lose their jobs because datacenters would shrink in size, and system engineers wouldn't be able to learn the "new skills" required. It is now 2009, and some 15 percent of all servers are now virtualized, server virtualization is easy to install and easier to operate, and there are literally tens of thousands -- if not more -- virtual admins in the workforce. Fear abated, technology embraced.

Like the original notion of server virtualization, there appears to be a similar trend coming where some people are predicting that companies will likely be able to get by with less staff ("do more with less") as they migrate to the cloud. After all, if the servers go off into the cloud, there won't be a need for people to mind the server farm, right?

But that's also assuming that all cloud computing will leave the walls of the company. Does that mean that everything goes into the cloud? And who will manage these external clouds? Servers may be out of sight and out of mind, but they still exist!

Andi Mann, vice president of research at Enterprise Management Associates said, "My belief is that cloud computing will not substantially affect employment levels. But if it does, it will actually be positive for IT pros. Computing is still a resource-intensive task, regardless of who is doing it, so IT pros will be in demand within the enterprise or without."

Mann believes that larger enterprises will use external clouds more for shorter-term gap filling rather than wholesale workload replacement. He said, "Every IT pro has too many projects to get done with the time and budget they have, and with the economy as it is, that is not getting any better. This will drive project work into the external cloud."

When looking at the differences between internal and external clouds, Mann stated, "External clouds will grow because they are great places to get ad hoc work done or to roll out a new project, at least for the short term. As a result, they will actually spur employment, albeit in a minor way."

On the other hand, Mann alluded that internal clouds will show the strongest growth, stating that the issues around management and compliance will drive it significantly, as will the need to leverage the extensive existing investments that most organizations have (especially in staff, training, and products, as well as hardware and software).

Tarry Singh, cloud analyst/evangelist/technologist from Avastu said that one thing is for sure: "There will be enough jobs -- if not a lot -- in the datacenters that are being built across the globe, thus leading to a decrease in jobs in the in-house IT departments as more and more IT applications and infrastructures are lifted from generation 1 to generation 2 landscapes, meaning as they move from current in-house hosted to SaaS/PaaS/IaaS."

Again, like server virtualization, as the cloud begins to dominate and take over the old datacenter structure, IT pros will need to learn new skills. So if you choose to remain in the tar pit at that point, well, you know the rest.

Singh agreed, saying, "There will come a stage when XaaS [Everything as a Service] will become prevalent, but we are still a decade or two away from that. Right now, the clouds will create the disruption in the IT workforce, so if you are not adept in new technologies such as virtualization [VMware vSphere, Amazon AMI, Microsoft Hyper-V/Azure, etc.], then you might find it hard to justify your cycles to your departments."

Andi Mann finished off by saying the cloud is inherently more complex to build and deliver than traditional infrastructures, and the technologies it requires layer on top of what we already have, rather than replacing it. So he believes we will continue to see investments made in IT infrastructure (especially sophisticated management software), and the IT pros we will need (probably more than ever) to run that infrastructure.

Cloud computing is obviously still off somewhere in the sky, but it won't be forever. I believe one thing to be certain: If you aren't interested in learning and remaining relevant to the IT business that you are currently in, then be prepared to get educated and retrained for some other career path. It might not be the cloud that forces you to change, but it will be something at some point down the road. Don't be content wallowing in the tar pit.

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