As if outsourcing, virtualization, utility computing, automation, hosted applications, and a recession weren't enough to stress out the average IT professional, there's the emerging threat of cloud computing to take away even more IT jobs. As time progresses, analyst firms foresee the cloud becoming more prevalent, absorbing functions traditionally done by IT. IDC predicts that worldwide IT spending on cloud services will grow almost threefold by 2012 to $42 billion. Gartner has even predicted that, for IT, cloud computing will become as influential as e-business has been.
So exactly how -- and when -- will cloud computing reshape IT organizations and IT jobs? And what should the typical IT staffer do to protect his or her career?
First, don't panic. Any large-scale shift to cloud computing is a decade or more away, says Gartner analyst Ben Pring. "For now I look at software as a service [Saas] and cloud computing as an extension of the company's network, not a replacement," says Kim Terry, president of Terrosa Technologies, which helps software vendors make their wares available through the cloud. "In most organization, it's likely to be five years before anyone is ready to change out a company's financial systems [to the cloud]," he says.
The cloud will create a few jobs, at first
In the short term, cloud computing today may actually create some IT jobs, says James Staten, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. The reason: Today, cloud computing is mostly used for new applications. And, even as you rely on cloud providers for the back-end work, "you still have to know a lot about this infrastructure; you just don't have to manage it yourself," he says.
"Some percentage of the jobs actually performing infrastructure services, monitoring, and datacenter operations in-house will shift to cloud service providers like Google, Amazon, and the telcos," says Mark McDonald, Gartner's group vice president of executive programs. But there won't be much growth in these infrastructure jobs at the cloud providers, he notes, due to the economies of scale that come from massive, highly automated and virtualized service-based infrastructures. "There will likely be fewer people needed per thousand transactions," he says.
"But if you're able to get one of these jobs, in many cases it's a skill set that is less technical and more managerial and administrative, with days full of conference calls and putting out fires. [In such jobs,] few technical skills [are] added to your repertoire," says Carole Schlocker, president of IT staffing services at iSpace. Even management growth will be limited since most of the big decisions have been made in the service contracts, she notes.
Even if you do manage to get a job at a cloud provider's datacenter, it most likely won't be where you live today. Terry points out that many of these jobs will move outside of the major cities. "Instead of running a small datacenter near Washington, D.C., or New York City, cloud providers will tend toward an area that makes sense from a facilities perspective, such as near a large dam or close to a power-generation source in a place like Idaho where electricity is less expensive," he says.