VMware admins possess the IT skills needed in a down economy

With unemployment rates topping 10 percent, IT professionals with virtualization skills are in high demand and earning top dollar

Those individuals with virtualization skills and cloud expertise can earn a much higher salary right now compared to professionals in other areas of IT. Virtualization technology is maturing and spreading throughout datacenters, and the skills needed to implement and operate it are currently in high demand.

Despite a down economy, virtualization has proven itself recession resilient. Server virtualization has altered the way people manage the datacenter, and it's become a fundamental technology for many organizations. But purchasing virtualization software and licenses is only a small slice of the duties. Deciding how to architect and implement your assets, as well as how to manage them on an ongoing basis is a much bigger chunk of the pie, and finding people with that knowledge or ability may not be as easy as you would imagine.

[ Find out if having years of virtualization experience or a VMware VCP 3 certification is enough, or if you should upgrade to a vSphere 4 certification. | VMware removes obstacles to adopting vSphere 4 by releasing SRM 4.0 adding support for vSphere 4, NFS, and vCenter Linked Mode. ]

Last September, the analyst and consulting firm Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) released a research report on virtualization that found a lack of skills or knowledge was the No. 1 barrier to success with virtualization, while lack of time and/or people was third at 36 percent. According to Andi Mann, VP of research at EMA, these findings are consistent with EMA research going back to early 2006, with skills being one of the top three issues every time.

In spite of that problem, more and more enterprises are deploying virtualization, and they're doing so to more and more servers. Mann stated:

In the average organization, only around 25 percent of servers are actually virtualized, but that rate is growing every year. As a result, skills shortages are actually getting worse -- not better -- in 2008, only 31 percent of enterprises definitely had the skills they needed to manage their virtual deployments, down from 47 percent in 2006. In 2009, there are more experts, but there is even higher demand, yet budget cuts mean that training has not kept pace.

According to feedback and research done at VMPeople.net, a virtualization and cloud computing job site, it appears that while the market is maturing and jobs are increasing, so is the amount of consultants. However, this increase is only for those consultants coming in with an entry-level skill set.

Gavin Barnard, a director at VMPeople said, "Cream-of-the-crop consultants are becoming more difficult to obtain the services of, simply because the company who is currently employing them is usually well aware of their worth and is therefore not letting them go."

Barnard added that contract lengths are now beginning to increase as well, climbing to six-month-plus terms as opposed to the weeklong or one-month agreements they'd previously seen.

"The emphasis is still very much on VMware's VCP certification with a hint of VCDX creeping in," said Barnard. "Whilst experience is definitely a driving factor for agencies and employers, it appears that a very small number are actually quoting years of experience in job specs, but the vast majority will ask for VCP certified consultants. And practically all job specs placed with VM People are asking for VMware experience."

While VMware is still the dominant skill sought by employers, Barnard said that Citrix qualifications are also becoming a little more prevalent in job advertisements, although they're still uncommon. He suggests that if you are looking to break into the virtualization and cloud computing market at this time, you'll want to have VMware qualifications and experience.

For the short term or near future, virtualization skills alone seem to be a major bonus for the IT professional. But this may not always be the case.

Mann said, "Less than a quarter of enterprises have a dedicated virtualization team -- most devolve responsibility to existing teams (like the server or OS teams). By contrast, the majority of enterprises split virtualization management among multiple teams. What's more, over time as virtualization deployments mature, and the virtualization project teams are unable to scale, the virtualization experts are expected to go back to their old roles, as only 14 percent of all organizations plan to maintain a separate virtualization management group for over two years."

"To me, these numbers say two things," added Mann. "Firstly, virtualization skills are of critical and increasing importance, and any IT practitioner will do better to have them in the short term; and must have them over time, regardless of their role in the organization. Secondly, virtualization skills, while clearly critical, are not enough. If you are a virtualization expert but cannot handle other server, storage, OS, desktop, or network management operations, you are eventually going to be outpaced by your peers."

This story, "VMware admins possess the IT skills needed in a down economy," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization at InfoWorld.com.