Not to mention, he maintains, there will continue to be highly intensive or proprietary tasks that require on-premises hardware and services, as well as desktop, laptop and tablet support roles, even if those personal devices connect to cloud services.
Bentley's Topi agrees that systems administrators will need a new set of skills geared toward the cloud. For instance, they could become involved with negotiating contracts with providers, understanding and effectively managing service level agreements and taking an active role in vendor management.
"There's a need to understand in-depth what has been promised [by cloud service providers] and how these promises are being delivered -- that's really important in this new environment," he says.
With the ability to quickly change the external resources being used -- whether it's processing power, storage volumes or network capacity -- deft management of these resources will also be necessary.
"In extreme cases, you can bring up thousands or tens of thousands of servers in a very brief period of time," Topi says. "That can't be managed without a very highly automated and structured approach," which would require highly skilled systems administrators to set up and orchestrate.
Translating business requirements to the external service provider is another skill that will be needed, as is troubleshooting, Topi says. "Let's say there are multiple providers of IT resources -- systems administrators are the ones who can troubleshoot with external providers to figure out the problem quickly."
Sysadmins in transition
Thom Jonsson, a senior systems administrator at AT&T Services, is one systems administrator who's heard the message that change is in the air.
To keep his skills and capabilities updated and relevant, Jonsson recently transitioned from a senior systems support role, focused on security and compliance, to a new role with an AT&T cloud team. His functions are relatively the same, he says, but are now applied to a virtual environment, using VMware-based servers as opposed to physical ones.
With several certifications -- including CompTIA's A+, Network+ and Security+, as well as Cisco's CCENT/CCNA -- Jonsson says he is primarily self-taught in cloud technologies. "You can't pigeonhole yourself into one thing," he says. "You need to step out of your comfort zone because technology is ever-evolving."
Jonsson believes sysadmins who can work with networking, security and operating systems will find plenty of job opportunities available, an assertion echoed by others in the field. "Even if [a company] is handling their data and applications in the cloud, they still need someone to do the connecting and routing and networking," says a senior systems administrator in the telecom industry who asked not to be named. "I would get a Cisco certification or Juniper -- that way you always have something in your back pocket."
He speaks from experience, having been in the job market in 2008 after a layoff. "I had 10 years of Solaris experience and a little bit of networking, and I could only get one interview," he says. But within a week after getting his CCNA certification, he began receiving interview requests for networking jobs and continues to receive emails responding to his resume. He ultimately scored a sysadmin job that was similar to the work he had been doing before the layoff.