Skills Needed for the Data Center of Tomorrow

Last week I did a post regarding the future in the cloud computing space that focused primarily on the large number of unfilled positions in the modern-day data center. Employment options for this space should be rich and plentiful for the next decade or so, and I think that is a great thing, but there is something else to take away from the post that should make us all take some time to pause and think. Let’s talk about the skills needed for the data center of tomorrow and take another look at this part of my post:

This transfer of skill sets in almost every modern data center around the world is happening so fast that there seems to be quite a shortage of people who are qualified to handle and maintain this growing trend and its needs in the corporate world. For those of us who have migrated to and are working in this new space, the future seems bright, with, at least for the moment, plenty of room for others in technology to increase their skill sets and join in the fun. In my humble opinion, there is currently no better market or skill set to have than in the cloud computing space. If you think about it, this space encompasses quite a few different areas of expertise: servers, desktops, storage, and networking, just to name a few. So, how good does the future look?

Assuming the cloud remains a number-one priority for companies, it appears that the industry is struggling to find the right people to respond to this new environment. In 2012, more than 1.7 million jobs related to cloud computing remained unfilled worldwide. As another example, Microsoft reported that the demand for cloud-savvy IT professionals will grow by 26% annually until 2015 and will create more than seven million cloud-related vacancies worldwide. In Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, IDC estimates a growth of 24% per year to about 1.4 million cloud-related IT jobs by 2015. The Asia-Pacific region will have largest growth (32% per year), resulting in more than 2.3 million cloud-related jobs by the end of 2015.

That is a lot of jobs and a lot of work available, yet we still see and hear about the number of technology professionals who are struggling to find the right opportunity. Unfortunately, for many of them and others, there were 1.7 million cloud-related jobs in 2012 that could not be filled due to the lack of skills and competencies from applicants. This problem, according to Microsoft, will continue to grow by as much as 26% every year until the end of 2015 if the skills gap cannot be addressed.

Though there seems to be plenty of work available for skilled virtualization and cloud computing engineers today, and though this strong demand is expected to continue well into tomorrow, there is a flip side to this coin: how and why have we come to this point of such worldwide skill shortage?

A major factor in the skill shortage is simply the speed at which virtualization and cloud computing have taken hold inside our data centers. The growth has been almost like that of a vine or weed that quickly takes over a garden; it is perhaps not as entire, but at least as fast.

I can remember seeing growth like this happen before, in the early to mid-1990s when Windows NT 3.5.1 came out. What was special about that release was that it was designed and focused on the business world to get networked computers on everyone’s desk. In my humble opinion, this was the starting point of an an explosion of IT growth. There were many more jobs available, but nowhere near the number of qualified people needed to fill them. For those who made the leap to become trained in the positions’ required competencies, life was great and jobs were abundant. That made it very similar to what we are seeing today, but with one huge difference.

Back in the 1990’s, there was a need to get people into the computer industry and trained as fast as possible to meet the burgeoning demand. This is the time when technology certifications really took off. Many people were working on getting certified to fill these positions, and the number of NCA, MCP, NCE, MCSE, etc. certifications grew at an unprecedented level, which in turn presented another issue in the form of paper engineers.

What makes today so much different, in my view, is that we are looking to fill positions with skilled and knowledgeable people, but at the same time we are redefining what a data center is and how it works. Yes, we are still going to need hardware technicians who will be able to fix and replace the physical hardware and components, but the number of people needed for that task has been drastically reduced since the 1990s. The technical folks who perform these tasks have at least a general understanding of virtualization in that there is a pretty good chance that the server they work on today is running a hypervisor. The same is true for any Microsoft MCSE who works in the server admin role. There is a good chance that Windows Server is running virtually. The same goes for storage, networking, and so on, the point being that virtualization and cloud computing are now everywhere.

IT roles and responsibilities are getting redefined with the expectation that most of the people in this industry should have a basic understanding of the underlying technology and how to work with it. I believe the gap comes in that most people understand the basics, and the technology has become much easier to work with. In most cases, all you need to do to get things set up is install with the defaults and, presto, you have a basic environment. In a great number of environments, the basics will do, since this is really just one of the hats that IT people must wear along with the email, networking, storage, and server skills they must bring to the table. It is the true consultants and the people who are running in large, complex environments who will move away from the traditional tasks and on to things like Puppet, Chef, Hadoop, and automation, to name just a few. Such skills may become mastered through working with the technology every day, just like everything else, but unless you are getting the experience needed, you just might find yourself being left behind, without the skills needed for the data center of tomorrow.

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