Data Centers

How will cloud computing change the IT pro's job in 2011 and beyond?

Colin Smith advances some considered predictions about what the trend toward cloud computing really means to IT pros and organizations in 2011 and beyond.

I don't typically like perform prognostications but it is a new year and I have been thinking about what it means for our industry. Here's what I see 2011 and beyond looking like for the IT pro in light of the impetus towards cloud based services

There is no question that cloud services are gaining momentum in many sectors. One of the interesting aspects of the uptake in cloud services is the number of small organizations that are moving to cloud services. Traditionally, IT innovations have seen early adopters in large organizations where economies of scale can help justify the initial cost of a new technology. Small organizations have typically been late adopters as they wait for the players to consolidate and technologies to become mainstream. Not so with cloud services. The fastest growing segment is small business.

It makes sense since cloud services give SMBs some of the economies of scale previously unattainable. Consider how much it would cost in hardware, software, backups, and human resources for a 15-user organization to implement Exchange, SharePoint, and Office Communicator, and Live Meeting in house. I don't think it would be a stretch to suggest that it would cost at least $10K if not more over a three year period. My lowball costs are $5k in hardware, $2k in software, $1k in backups, and $2k in services. That works out to about $275 per month.

For the same 15 users, you could use Microsoft BPOS at a cost of $10 per user per month. That's $150 per month. Of course there are less expensive options available from other vendors, but this is a direct comparison based on a brand new installation with no sunk costs.

The dramatic cost savings is the main appeal of small organizations that want to focus on their core competencies and minimize IT budgets.

How does this paradigm shift affect the role of the typical IT pro? The standard answer in this business is, "It depends." In large part it depends on the type of organization that the IT Pro works for.

All organizations

The cloud provides flexibility and scalability not only to organizations but also to IT pros. With the ability to connect to cloud based services from more locations and devices, IT pros will find that they can do more remote work and the "office" will be wherever (and whenever) they can get a connection.

As cloud-based services homogenize the application landscape with fewer large players providing the majority of services, this will increase the mobility of IT pros, and the ramp up time associated with a move between employers will be shortened.

While this flexibility has some advantages like reduced commuting and real estate costs, it can also mean longer work hours that are not necessarily tracked or compensated.

Organizations that help employees achieve a healthy balance between work and other activities will see lower turnover. While also true in a non-cloud environment, the increase in employee mobility should be a concern for HR departments.

Small organizations

Small organizations might find that they no longer need as many (or any) full time IT pros. IT might become a part-time role for somebody with another function and a proclivity for technology.

Small managed service providers

The most immediate implication is for small outsourcing and managed service providers. The value-add that they provide is eroded significantly when compared with cloud services. As larger organizations providing cloud-based solutions attract more small business customers, small IT shops will lose customers, margin, and traditional service opportunities.

This is also an opportunity for those service providers that are agile enough to transform themselves into cloud partners. What I mean by this is that there are opportunities to help small businesses take advantage of cloud services and save money either through migration services or cloud service reselling. The sales pitch is easy but the margins are low. In order to have a viable business model, volume is key. This means that small managed service providers will need to grow their customer base significantly to maintain sustainability.

So what does this mean for the IT pro at a small outsourcing shop? I would expect that there will be far less hands-on technical work and much more menial administration across many more customers. There will also be an increase in network architecture and management requirements as connectivity to the cloud will increase in importance compared to local connectivity.

Large organizations

Large organizations will see a splintering of their IT workforce. There will be a split between those who end up building and operating the internal private cloud and those who manage their organization's use of cloud services (both private and public).

The private cloud team will build depth in the requisite technologies (e.g. virtualization, fabric computing, grid computing, etc.) for providing internal cloud services.

The team that manages the use of cloud services will have the more orthogonal shift in job description. They will have much less focus on operations. Their technical depth will decrease while more emphasis will be placed on technical breadth.

Additionally, a whole new set of abilities will be required. The skills matrix will include the following:

Workload Analysis & Management - Understanding which workloads can be moved to cloud services and which services are appropriate to each workload. Procurement & Vendor Management - Managing the various cloud service providers will become important to maximizing cost savings while maintaining operations efficiency. There will be a  mix of SaaS, PaaS, IaaS providers. Business Analysis - What workloads are the most time sensitive? Can software as a service meet the needs of the business? Does it make sense to move an application server to an infrastructure provider like EC2 or is it more effective to re-architect the application to run on a Azure? Risk Management - Identification, assessment, and prioritization of the risks associated with cloud computing will be the first step in understanding the opportunities available to your organization. The natural follow on is a coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor, and control the probability and/or impact of the identified risks. This is also a key factor in maximizing the benefits associated with the opportunities associated with cloud computing. IT Governance - Deeper involvement in how IT is used to meet organizational objectives and monitoring and controlling its current and future use within an organization will differentiate those that succeed in moving large portions of their computing workloads to the cloud. Compliance - Beyond conventional regulatory compliance requirements (e.g. Sarbanes-Oxley, PCI, HIPAA, etc.), maintaining compliance with regulatory standards will impact how some workloads are managed and how they can be moved to the cloud. In some cases proving to auditors that are unfamiliar with cloud services that your organization has taken necessary steps to safeguard information assets will be challenging.

Thanks for letting me make some predictions for the future of our industry. What's your take on things?

About

Colin Smith is a Microsoft SCCM MVP who has been working with SMS since version 1.0. He has over 20 years of experience deploying Microsoft-based solutions for the private and public sector with a focus on desktop and data center management.

63 comments
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caroseed
caroseed

We're currently discussing this issue on the Microsoft LinkedIn cloud group (at http://lnkd.in/XyKRGX). I've started with the presumption that server technicians and SysAdmins will be first in the firing line! It would be great to get some feedback from you lot making comments here, especially on specific job titles and how they will change (or disappear altogether). Although it's a Microsoft group you don't have to be a devotee to join, we're trying to delve a bit deeper into all the issues around cloud computing....

JET-AGE
JET-AGE

Please, could anybody help me out. I'm trying to connect ten wyse thin clients to a dedicated server with Microsoft Windows XP SP2 and it seems it does not allow multiple user session. I'm just stuck and need someone to help me out.

thesilversurfer
thesilversurfer

I'm a fan of "the cloud". I've been that ever since I read Neuromancer in the early 90ies some time. Later I realized that this fictional world which is run by 3-4 major database companies who host the worlds information resemble the statement of the chairman of IBM back in 1948 when he said there's a market for 3-4 super computers in the world. In a sense the wacko who said the cloud doesn't exist is correct. But only in a sense. All data is stored in remote data centers, but there's differences in data centers. Taking your citrix server or your exchange server and moving it to Rackspace down the road isn't leveraging cloud technology. It's hosting. The Microsoft ads (Yay cloud!) if you've seen them have NOTHING to do with cloud computing. They're merely connecting remotely to their home computer. No cloud computing is something different, it's a dogmatic shift, an epiphany that will strike you when you realize the power. For me, the first cloudbased service I used was Plaxo, and that was just to sync my contact between my pc, my mac and my blackberry. Having lost my bb I bought a new whilst traveling, logged in, synced my contacts and there they were. The data belonged to me, not to a device. Of course now there's much more powerful ahaa! moments. On the fly speach to text to translation to speech from any smartphone is probably one that stand out the most. The separation of data and computing from the device will allow your "dumb" phone to leverage thousands of servers online to compute those probability calculations that makes up the translations and serve them to you on any device with a browser. Pretty sweet. So what is cloud? I heard a Google engineer brag at an even saying that if a customer wanted to add more than 8million users to their email solution, the customer needed to give them 24h notice. Well, the cloud is something like that, pretty flexible. It's third party, accessible from anywhere, any device with a browser. It would need to exist in a number of locations to guarantee near 100% accessibility. Most of you will agree on all this. Moving into more controversial areas, I would argue that it would have to be a multi-tenant solution. Why? Because anything else is just fancy hosting with a clear limitation on economy of scale, flexibility etc. Now, to the question, what does this mean for the IT pro? Well for one there's no patching and updating. IT pro's will have to be prepared to become "enablers" to the businesses, finding apps, gadgets and ways to combine different services with their on premise solutions to make sure that decision maker and staff have the right tools, data and processes available in their daily work. The IT pro will have a procurement role, making sure to manage the changing needs of the organization. As a key person when it comes to data access, he will have to work closer with finance, legal, planning and understand how leveraging technology can bring competitive advantages to the organization. There will also be a number of end user who will install or create gadgets and apps for themselves. The proactive IT professional will help improve those, analyze how the business and operations people work and see what can be automated or customized into an app running in the cloud. I have listened to a number of new hungry (not always young) CIO's who are making names for themselves for rolling out cloud solutions in their company. Of course, choose poorly and you might be fired, but you're not likely today to be promoted or cheered for installing a hosted solution...

TheArmadaGroup
TheArmadaGroup

Great post and good food for thought. At The Armada Group, we are seeing impact not only in SMB but also in application migration for enterprise. Just posted some thoughts on this at http://thearmadagroup.com/it-blog/ and would love to know your thoughts.

nihilus65
nihilus65

Typical talk from a Microsoft man, secure is something I backup and store in different location where I am able to retrieve it on machines I can touch. I'm using BPOS and it's an ugly beast to work with, everything MUST be Microsoft or you have crippled functionality. Once the people wake up it will be our next bubble. We had a www bubble, the next one will be the cloud bubble. So I hope ... the cloud will disappear and we all can enjoy the sunshine again.

gechurch
gechurch

As an excercise, I like to look at how we got to where we are today. Often you see patterns that are likely to continue. I see a few fundamental pieces that had to fall into place before cloud computing became possible: Hardware - In the early days there were lots of incompatible connectors and slots. They slowly became standardised, as did sizes (and the creation of rack mounts). More recently blade's were introduced. Virtualisation - Initially you could just virtualise an OS on a single computer. Later came the ability to seamlessly migrate a guest OS from one host to another. We also now have the ability to run software (backup, antivirus) on the host. Things are slowly starting to become standardised here. There are management tools that can manage many different VM types (HyperV, Vmware etc). Data Storage - We moved frmo direct-attached storage to centralised storage. Initially over the local network, but now more data is being stored online. Software - This to me is the last piece of the puzzle, and is in the earliest stage. I'm talking about the software that lets you manage your cloud; provision new servers, add new software etc. This is still very young because there has never been a big need for it before. Few companies were provisioning new servers so often that they need a simple interface to do so. The pattern I see in all of the above is the life cycle. It is essentially: - New hardware/software is produced. Every company creates their own way of doing things. - Companies start creating standards. - The hardware/software becomes commodocised, with interfaces so they can interoperate with other brands and products. Many third-party products become feasible because they can be created against a standard. So I don't look like too much of a dunce when people point out things I didn't know, I should mention that I haven't researched what the cloud providers are offering, and I work for small businesses, so don't know how things are currently done in data centers. (I'm assuming when a new server is needed there is some sort of clone process, or maybe it is created from a master template or similar?). Anyway, I'm fully expecting people to tell me that half the stuff I have "predicted" is already standard practise! Hopefully virtualisation will continue to be standardised to the point where there is just one data format for VMs that all the players use. I also see no reason that standard server-provisioning software won't be created (I'm assuming all the current cloud providers are rolling their own at this stage?). At that point, I expect someone to start selling said software to businesses so they can use it in their own private cloud. I can also see virtual machines making their way onto desktop computers. PCs are fast and the penalty for running a hypervisor isn't great. Why not have the Windows install disk install the HyperV host and a single Windows guest? Installation would become a breeze - just copy a VM file and run it under HyperV. HyperV would of course be transparent to the user - maybe the user would have to press a button during boot to access the HyperV console, in the same way we press Delete to enter the BIOS.

gechurch
gechurch

Thanks for the article Colin. It was an interesting excercise to read your thoughts. Thanks too for the link to BPOS - I hadn't come across it before. I signed up for the trial to have a play. Notes to Microsoft though: 1) If you're going to advertise this service as being available to Australia, include Australia in the country drop-down list when signing up. It wasn't there, so now my service will be hosted (am I allowed to use that word in relation to cloud computing?) in New Zealand. More lag. 2) If you say you're going to send an email within 15 minutes, do so. An hour later and no email yet. To those discussing security of data and the other potential pitfalls of cloud computing - although I largely agree with you, it's a moot point. More and more companies will move to the cloud. This article is not about whether this is the right move, it's about what the move will mean for us as IT professionals. I work as a consultant in the small business market and I must say I don't think it's as gloomy as the article predicts. I don't see cloud computing affecting my existing customers. They have existing infrastructure and licences - they aren't going to throw those away to move to a subscription model. Also, server maintenance is not the major time consumer for me. I spend far more time fixing adhoc issues, upgrading line-of-business apps, fixing desktop issues and making recommendations to clients. In fact, for existing customers I would be very happy not to have to worry about server maintenance and focus only on business needs. I can see this affecting potential future clients though. We often put in new servers for clients that have grown past the workgroup stage and need centralised storage, security and software consistency across PCs. The cloud may be an attractive proposition for these companies, and "the cloud" has received enough advertising that many companies will know of its existence and may explore it. If they go that route, that's very bad for my business. We don't get income from installing the servers, and we don't get income from on-going maintenance contracts. I envisage frustrations for many of these companies too. In my experience, companies without an IT department/guy will wait until there is a fairly major problem before calling someone in to fix it. They often ignore problems, and put up with smaller problems because they're not worth paying someone to come in to fix. In contrast, customers we have on contract are always calling us in to fix issues, and while I'm there looking at something else, they will get me to look at the smaller issues that they otherwise would have ignored. It's easy to justify when you are just using hours that are already paid for. That gives a better result to the companies, and is obviously better for my company too. Maintenance contracts are easy to sell to clients that have servers. Clients without servers (on-premises) are far less likely to want to sign a contract, and if they don't they will not see the many other advantages that we provide.

lsasadoorian
lsasadoorian

I'm retired involuntarily and can't see why I've not seen any columns about "cloud security". I know all about how efficient the cloud is or how the cloud saves money, which is the overriding factor, or how the cloud is the future, but what about the safety of storing valuable data and ensuring it's safety. As some have said, it isn't some magical, mystery place with unicorns and a yellow-brick road, it's someone else's servers and data farms and they may be no safer than any other servers or data farms. Why not tighten down your data storage and keep the data where you are more certain it's safe. And please spare me the stuff about these big reputable companies and their guarantees. If there's an unforeseen problem, the guarantee doesn't help get what you may need right now or stop others from gaining access. At least you have control and may see possible upcoming problems and prevent them.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

All this cloud computing might be a shock and awe thanks to the media and advertising but it is still limited by the bandwidth we have. It's really lame to wait for every menu to pop up after 20s of waiting.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Whether that's through a true outsourcing / scaling efficiency or some Gartner led noob, buying into it big style and their employer dying from their ignorance. Some of us will get some really new and interesting work making use of the cloud platform perhaps directly for a provider. It should be remembered that most of our current applications in code, design and process will never be effective in the cloud without major rework. Some of us will never get so far as losing our jobs, and never get all the way to changing them as the real risks and cost of chnage are appreciated. Same Shit Different Tech, isn't it? The cloud is nowhere near as big a change as people would like us to believe, and the pendulum will swing too far, and we'll get paid to drag it back. No big deal basically...

Digby1
Digby1

As a small VAR/consultant we find the Microsoft BPOS model financially untenable. I fully understand their need for world domination, however they are biting heavily the hand that feeds them. After all we support their end users, sell the Office software, SQL servers and such like. I guess the cloud will evolve better alternatives, and maybe some bright spark will create a cloud service whereby the smaller VARS can offer a realistic service at a price that puts bread on the table.

calbrit01
calbrit01

The cloud is just a fancy term for what we have all been doing for years where approriate - co-locating our systems and sometimes services. Its just a natural evolution in interface technology that still relies on solid infrastructure. Don't worry anytime soon if you have security concerns ITAR and above, doubt if US government contracts will allow "cloud" outsourcing for a long time yet...

langstonha
langstonha

I remember being down for a week because the t1 line was cut in another state. I wonder how the cloud can handle that kind of work around.

christopheramberry
christopheramberry

Changes and opportunities: The Cloud will bring many of the changes in Colin's column, no question, caveats about prognostication aside. Also opportunities to expand IT's role. I see it, as a IT exec for a mid-size organizations that tends to have some qualities of a large organization as an opportunity to change the service paradigm. The cloud lets us provide many more services at much lower cost. But, all these services must be coordinated (hence the roles seen for larger organizations) AND made relavent to the user. There's going to be a lot more interaction and deep support with the user. Just like at the last IT revolution so many years ago. Support professionals are going to have to have a new skill set from usual desktop support: now they have to understand the business as a whole, get the way the cloud services interact with that (an abstraction layer) and how the users interact with the services (another abstraction layer). Support professionals will need to be much better communicators and synthesizers of information to be able to provide deep support, ensuring users see the gains from the Cloud.

steveracer67
steveracer67

I agree this is just someone trying to make a buck and there is no way cloud computing should be trusted. Businesses should ask who has control of the security of their information, both physical and Virtual those are in the hands of Probably a Foreign entity, and we all know how that works. Ever call tech support where no one knows anything, my point is when not If bad things start to happen Businesses have only themselves to blame, but I know they will get a Government bail out for this when it happens as well. Sad the businesses of this country care so little about the people who got them to where thy are.

CG IT
CG IT

A monthly revenue generator for those providing cloud services and a money saver for those businesses that have an IT department. For those who see their 40 hour per week IT job in jepordy, it is. Just as outsourcing Help Desk work to India, where hourly salaries are 1/3rd those in the US, thus saves a business the cost of their own help desk, the "Cloud" will save businesses from having to hire their own IT workers, and pay them benefits. IT is no longer considered a major employer of workers, rather it's seen as a humongus, enormous, money pit, that must be brought under control.

reisen55
reisen55

Nothing, repeat, NOTHING, is stored in the cloud. Nothing is stored IN THE INTERNET PERIOD. All this is, really, is a con job, a game, where the internet represents an immensely LONG, COMPLEX AND NOT VERY SECURE CABLE from you system to somebody else's server somewhere else, under somebody else's care and control. Secure storage is highly questionable. HIPAA data should NEVER BE stored in the cloud. BUT, like outsourcing, it is CHEAPER because firms can fire their IT staff manning the data centers, dump the servers, throw out 42U racks, make the room a cafeteria and move their data, and their client's data, to servers in Bangalore for CHEAPER,FASTER,BETTER (all one word, heard many times before) and save money. CLOUD may be sexy, fun, a hot button but professional it stinks.

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