"With a service provider, people get enraged if the network goes down for an hour," says O'Day. "You have to give 110% service. The way you behave -- how quickly you call people back, how quickly you address their issues -- affects the health of that customer relationship. There's a stress factor to consider."
Beyond that, service providers work on a much larger scale than most traditional data centers -- they may have as many as 2,000 machines in one cluster. Working on a platform of that scale can be intimidating, O'Day says. You don't want to screw up 2,000 machines in one shot, he warns.
But that scale can also be invigorating. Ken Owens spent the early part of his career doing various kinds of network architecture for financial services and telecommunications companies. Now he's technical vice president of security and virtualization technologies for Savvis, the cloud services arm of Internet and telecommunications provider CenturyLink.
"At a service provider, you have more flexibility, because you're not locked into a specific silo," Owens says. "You have to understand the entire system, from storage to the network to the servers to security to how infrastructure is deployed by management systems. You have to have a much broader knowledge, and you have to go deep in any of those areas."
That can be a big plus for IT pros looking to expand their capabilities. "I like working for a service provider more [than traditional IT] because I'm able to solve problems for a lot of different companies," says Scott Grenier, a California-based consultant for Minneapolis-based Code 42 Software, a provider of cloud-based backup systems.
Having worked in IT at companies as diverse as Safeway, Industrial Light & Magic and Northrop Grumman, Grenier likens his career to being a musician. "The best way to get good is to play with as many people as possible," he says. "Here, I get to play a lot of instruments."
All jobs are cloud jobs now
As enterprise IT embraces a more integrated infrastructure, a flatter network and a more holistic perspective, tech professionals may have no choice but to adopt a service-provider mentality, no matter where they work.
With the advent of the cloud, "the world of IT is [becoming] way more complex and challenging for the IT professional," says Bill Hilf, Microsoft's general manager of platform strategy and a veteran of traditional IT himself.
"To be a great IT professional, you have to know about networks, storage, software, operating systems and then all of the different management instruments for all your different cloud providers," said Hilf. "I worry about IT guys who say they only specialize in storage. That works in yesterday's world, but you need to know about the entire stack to be effective today."
Terremark's Casusol concurs. "As we move more and more to the cloud, IT professionals will have to become service managers," he says. "They need to become more strategic one way or another. There is no way around it."
Frequent contributor Howard Baldwin last wrote for Computerworld about taking time out for innovation.
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