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Are developers really skilled up for the cloud?

Writing code for cloud-hosted apps is requiring developers to demonstrate new skills that some CIOs doubt exist in sufficient quantities in their teams.

Some CIOs worry whether enough expertise to produce software for the cloud exists in-house. Image: Shutterstock

CIOs say in-house developers are going to have to change mindsets and acquire new skills to meet their employer's goals of moving applications to the cloud.

As well as using software as a service, firms will be shifting an increasing amount of their packaged and self-developed apps to the cloud, a London round-table organised by software consultancy Avanade heard.

But the skills to produce software for the cloud are not commonly available among in-house developers. "We've got a lot of experience but we've no in-house experience on how to host an application in the cloud," said Lotus F1 CIO Graeme Hackland.

He said Lotus F1 is not yet moving software to the cloud but it is part of the Formula 1 racing company's application roadmap and something on which it will rely heavily.

"Developers - when they build an in-house-only solution, in my experience - don't think a lot about security and the security of that data or that application. That has been the major difference between things we put on-premise only and the things we're going to put in the cloud," Hackland said.

"The developers are going to have to take into account the integrity and the security of that data. There are probably lots of other [skills issues] but that's the thing that immediately jumps to mind for me. It's a different skillset - or a different thinking at least - for the developers as we make that transition," he said.

Last month, research from Manchester Business School and Rackspace suggested that the shortage of cloud skills in IT teams is so severe it's holding up deployments and leaving firms to look outside to buy in costly expertise. Almost one in two UK firms say the lack of cloud skills has hampered projects.

Expertise in cloud-based apps

Hackland, half of whose 40 staff work on software development and testing, said cloud-based apps are going to be important strategically to Lotus F1 because of the flexibility they will bring.

"Instead of having niche things that only run in one particular way, if we can start to build even the things we host internally as a service, then I can choose whether I put it into a public cloud or where I host it," he said.

Hackland moved all Lotus F1's CAD from Unix to Windows a few years ago but still uses some Linux for computation. He said 83 percent of his budget is spent on software, either off the shelf or developed in- house.

Lotus F1 has a wind tunnel that runs a 60 percent physical model but Hackland's supercomputer now contributes 50 percent of the aerodynamic gains to the company's Formula 1 cars.

Hosting apps and data in the cloud could resolve a number of issues for the racing team, Hackland said, citing the recent Grand Prix in Bahrain, after which all the IT equipment was packed into crates on the Sunday night and then spent 72 hours in transit.

"There was a three-day period where we couldn't get access to the data, we couldn't update the applications, because every race we're improving the applications [at the track], so we had to wait until they landed and set everything up," he said.

"We see an opportunity to put some of those services into some sort of cloud offering securely. It means the engineers at the factory can access data even if the guys at the track are travelling."

Gerry Pennell, former CIO for the London Olympics, agreed that specific skills are going to be needed to design and operate software in the cloud.

"When you're moving to this kind of world, architecture becomes much more important than it used to be. How you integrate with the host provider or the cloud solution - all those things become much more complicated and that includes the security of the data, which is also important," Pennell said.

Skills in managing cloud services

Skills and expertise in managing the supplier will also come to the fore. "If organisations are looking to take many more services externally they need to get smart at how they manage those suppliers and get the best out of them, and manage the contract and all that," he said.

Service management equally becomes much more critical. "When you've got a set of services, some of which you do yourself and some of which are provided for you externally but both together probably give you that end-user service to your customers," Pennell said.

"Getting your right service-management disciplines in place becomes more important and I guess you take from all that that in-house development in general becomes less important."

Avanade UK CTO Nic Merriman said a shift is also occurring in the need for developers to write code that is more efficient.

"We're starting to see organisations - it almost goes back to some of the mainframe days - architecting for cost because suddenly you have visibility of your costs," he said.

"Before you could build an in-house application and, apart from the tin you bought, you didn't really know the cost in terms of performance and security, unless you really focused on it," he said.

"Good architects are going to be key in a distributed world."

About

Toby Wolpe is a senior reporter at TechRepublic in London. He started in technology journalism when the Apple II was state of the art.

3 comments
qazolat
qazolat

Once again Tony H. nails it. Cutting, accurate, incisive, and right on the money. This stuff doesn't just magically appear...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

There are ways round those problems. Start a small project, treat it as one requiring extreme diligence, build up in-house knowledge an experience. That's how in-house development expertise started, often by accident. However those that describe the issue as simply an IT problem are doomed to failure from day one. As a business if your want your own in-house pool of talent, you'll have to invest in it, nurture it, be patient. Might have been an idea to start doing this some time ago eh? Next thought. Let's say there's a major change in sound business thinking and you do this, how are you going to keep those people? Rest assured there will be a pile of businesses wanting to take a shortcut and sneak off with your underpaid, badly treated highly valuable cloud people. The last real so called skills crisis which was addressed by creating a bunch of cookie cutters, paper tigers etc, is not going to do the job this time. Besides they were funded by the dot com boom, quest for new markets increased revenue etc. Whereas cloud continues to be sold as a cost saving. That model does not sit well with long term investment in people.... So any business reading your article, and thinking oh we need to do something about this now, too late, fools...

Tumbleweed_Biff
Tumbleweed_Biff

... if you included a good write up of the skills developers need to move to the cloud.