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 out of two UK companies says the lack of cloud skills has hampered projects, research from Manchester Business School and Rackspace has found.

Cloud skills are in ridiculously short supply, according to David Morgan, CEO of data-science tools provider Augify.

“The laws of supply and demand mean that the cost goes up and the only IT teams that can sensibly afford those are the large companies. It’s a thorny problem,” he said.

His firm takes big data from sources such as newsfeeds, blogs and chatrooms and analyses it in real time for, say, brand names, commodities or equities and for sentiment, emotion and intention and then provides visualisations of the results.

Importance of cloud

“We’re trying to query things like 24 billion records in under a second. That lends itself to huge processing power and huge storage capability and obviously our client base can’t afford to have that type of infrastructure. So the cloud is ideal,” Morgan said.

But he is struggling to find staff with the architectural skills to build powerful applications in the cloud.

“We need quite high-end infrastructure people who really understand scalability of huge exabytes of data and we need also cloud-based data scientists as well. There are just none around,” he said.

Only 19 per cent of UK firms think their IT team is capable of implementing cloud projects, according to the Manchester-Rackspace study. Some 37 per cent would like to hire staff just for their cloud skills but can’t find suitable candidates.

Direct and opportunity costs

Apart from the direct and opportunity costs involved in looking outside for skills, the shortage is having an impact in other areas.

“We want to kick on but management energy just gets distracted and your growth aspirations and your planning for growth just get stymied by the lack of skillsets. It impairs the pace of growth,” Morgan said.

He described the introduction of a cloud computing Masters course at Manchester Business School, starting in 2014, as a terrific initiative.

“You’ve got to start at grassroots level. The price point of some of these high skills from around the world is now pretty prohibitive – we need some home-grown talent,” he said.

Absence of core cloud competencies

Morgan added that he felt there is also scope for on-the-job training. “But you need some core competencies first, and finding those core competencies at a significant level even to start to build on is difficult,” he said.

Morgan added that given the negative impact of the cloud skills issue on business, it deserves a far higher profile.

“I’d like see more open and transparent discussion about these skills shortages – to encourage the first graduate intake of people into Manchester and also for other colleges and universities to grasp the nettle too,” he said.

Rackspace this week launched its Open Cloud Academy service, which it describes as a pilot training program to provide IT staff with affordable IT certifications on open cloud technologies.