Summary: The IT function is becoming a broker of services but, until that happens, infrastructure engineers will likely to fall into the ‘builder broker’ camp – you’ll need to be able to ‘stitch together’ different services but you’ll also need to build them and understand what’s ‘under the hood’.
For a few years now infrastructure engineers have been hearing how cloud computing is going to change their jobs, potentially putting many out of work. Plenty has been written about whether this will result in a net gain or loss of IT jobs (here, here, and here plus in one my first blogposts I talked about changing roles) but whatever your stance it’s undeniable that the nature of IT jobs will change – technology never stands still for long.
This isn’t theoretical or a shift that’ll start in ten years – changes are happening right now.
Gartner recently identified ‘IT as a service broker’ in their top ten technology trends for 2014 and I’d agree with those that say skills such as virtualisation are no longer enough. Here’s a few things I’ve being asked for in the last few months which is why I’m adding my voice to the ‘service broker’ trend;
- Knowledge of alternative virtualisation/cloud platforms. “Should we be considering Hyper-V? Openstack? Oracle VM?”
- How can we integrate Amazon’s VPC with our internal dev/test environments?
- If we buy into a third parties managed services, what’s the impact on our production platform and technology roadmap?
The news columns are filling up with articles about changing skillsets;
- “...IT will continue to struggle to…become cloud brokers that aggregate, integrate, customize, and curate third-party cloud services” (Laurent Lachal, OVUM, April 2014)
- “the biggest gaps are seemingly around IT personnel having business acumen and the new set of requirements around building relationships with vendors and service providers” (Mark Skilton, Warwick Business School, May 2014)
- “IT architects may not lose their jobs to cloud computing, but they might find themselves in the role of IT service broker because of it” (“The next hot IT job: Service Brokers”,Information Week, March 2014)
Still not convinced? VMware’s flagship cloud product, vCAC, exists to orchestrate resources across multiple clouds from AWS, RackSpace, Azure and others so this talk of ‘brokering’ across heterogeneous systems is also where VMware see the future.
The requirement for inhouse engineering expertise isn’t going to disappear overnight so you’ve got time to adjust, but for many the future may be more about integrating services together than building them.
How do you stay relevant?
That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? I’ve listed my opinions below although for alternative advice Steve Beaver wrote a great article for The Virtualization Practice at the end of last year (“Get off the hypervisor and into the cloud”) which mirrors my thoughts exactly. If I’d read it before writing this I probably wouldn’t have bothered!
- Focus on technical expertise. As the industry coalesces towards service providers and consumers the providers need the best people they can find as the impact (at scale) is magnified. Automation is a key trend for this role as self-service is a key tenet of cloud. Luckily, while ‘compute’ has already been disrupted by virtualisation both storage and network are just getting started which will generate demand for those who keep up with technology developments.
- Focus on becoming an IT broker. This means getting a wide knowledge of different solutions and architectures (AWS, VMware, OpenStack, understand SOA principles, federation, integration patterns etc) and know how to implement and integrate them. You’ll also have to get closer to the business and be able to translate business requirements such that you can satisfy them via the available services. Some would argue that this is crossing over to the role of a business analyst, and they may be right.
If you’re going to go deep on technology, go work for a vendor, ISP, or big IT consultancy (sooner rather than later).
If you’re going for the broker/business analyst role make sure you’re building up your business knowledge, with less focus on the low level nuts and bolts.
Pick one or the other, but don’t stand still. Taking my own advice I’ve just taken a role with a service provider. Let’s see how this plays out!