Cloud computing: A threat or opportunity?

The promise of the cloud -- and its greatest obstacle -- is that cloud computing customers will inevitably spend less on IT personnel

Cloud computing enables companies to off-load infrastructure and application maintenance to providers, reducing licensing, overhead, and capital investment costs. One obvious result is that cloud service providers end up getting the money that might otherwise go toward employing in-house IT people.

Cloud providers openly acknowledge the apprehension that cloud computing provokes in the IT ranks. Asked last week if some IT folks view the cloud as a threat to their livelihood, Mark Symonds, CEO at cloud-based ERP provider Plex Systems, didn't hesitate: "No question." But IT jobs, Symonds said, are migrating from babysitting servers and operating systems to working with business users to get the most out of technology.

Another cloud computing executive, OpSource CEO Treb Ryan, chimed in about an incident in which a company doing chip design tried unsuccessfully to get its designers to use IaaS (infrastructure as a service). When asked why they resisted, they responded, "Well, we don't want to lose our jobs," according to Ryan. In this particular case, only the server was to be maintained by the cloud provider -- chip designers would still set up tests and run them just as they would on their own internal hardware. Cloud servers are in fact an ideal method for chip design tasks, Ryan said, but performing those tasks in the cloud was just too frightening a prospect.

While there are still concerns about security, data ownership, and portability, cloud computing continues full steam ahead. More and more companies will shift workloads to IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS providers because the pay-as-you-go model provides greater flexibility -- including lower employee overhead.

As Forrester vice president Ted Schadler puts it, cloud computing poses a direct threat to "blue collar" IT, such as admins and others who simply maintain IT infrastructure. To survive, IT people will need to specialize and become more closely attuned to the needs of the business. Others might consider looking for a job with a cloud service provider.

This article, "Cloud computing: A threat or opportunity?," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.