CXO

Sysadmins: Soon to join the ranks of court jesters, limners and soda jerks?

How the shift to cloud services will see server specialists and other technical staff replaced by business and process analysts.

Sysadmins are heading the way of lamplighters, coopers, scriveners and other professions rendered obsolete by the march of technology.

During his 30 years in IT, Andy Caddy, group CIO for Virgin Active, said he has seen demand for staff with deep technical skills fall away.

This waning appetite for server specialists is being fuelled by the ongoing shift from companies running their own datacenters to using cloud services, he said.

Today, spending on cloud software and infrastructure makes up a fraction of the global market for IT. However uptake of cloud services is growing rapidly, driven by constantly falling prices and the expanded ecosystem of services offered by the likes of Amazon. Eventually, some predict the cost of public cloud infrastructure will fall to the point where it will becomes impossible for in-house offerings to compete.

"Instead of having an organisation built around creating and developing people who are very technical, you're going to be thinking much more around business people," Caddy told the Interop conference in London.

"So less of the people wielding spanners and wiring boxes together and more of the people who are out in the business understanding change, understanding demand and the rationale of why you're doing stuff."

Caddy has already overseen such a shift within the airline easyJet, where he served as CTO.

"We changed from having a very technical team to having a much more business-orientated team.

"We moved from a small amount of business analysts and change people to that being the focus of IT," he said, adding that a similar transition is taking place at Virgin Active.

Unfortunately for sysadmins, major cloud providers won't employ all of those who previously held in-house IT jobs.

Companies behind major cloud platforms - the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Google - require far fewer staff to run datacenters - relying on software to automate much of the provisioning and maintenance.

Facebook illustrates how tech firms operating at scale require far less manual supervision, with the social network revealing in 2013 that one worker could run 20,000 servers. Some analysts predict these monolithic datacenters will be almost entirely automated by 2018, using a mix of software and robotics.

While the "very best" among the displaced sysadmins and other technical staff will find a role at the major cloud service providers, according to Caddy, he stressed in-house IT is changing forever.

"You also have to accept that in 10 years time you won't walk into a company and see its computer room. It just won't be there. Those roles won't exist, but a whole host of other roles will - data analytics, the business and process change roles."

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About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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