The benefits of cloud computing are there for the taking – but only if you have the right skills to exploit them, says Ian Molyneaux.

In IT, new skills come and go at the same rate as new technologies. One of the most significant tech changes of the past few years has been the growth of cloud computing, with analyst Gartner saying by 2015 half of CIOs expect to be operating their applications and infrastructure using the cloud.

Along with that technological shift comes probably the biggest challenge to recruitment and retention of talent of the past 10 to 20 years. That’s because a shortage of the skills needed for virtualisation and cloud deployment will hinder IT departments in their adoption of this important technology.

IT office

As IT shifts towards using cloud to deploy tech more strategically, the skills needed become broaderPhoto: Shutterstock

IT departments are already discovering they need to change employee skillsets because cloud encompasses more than one technology. Inhouse teams used to be siloed but now individuals need a broader set of skills, which might include storage, servers and networking.

With cloud computing, CIOs are effectively renting the technology, potentially reducing costs and management overheads, while gaining greater flexibility and autonomy.

That versatility can allow greater risk-taking, enabling new approaches, environments and applications to be created, tested and taken down again in a matter of days, and at much less cost than on conventional infrastructures.

This approach frees up the CIO and his team to add real value to a business and concentrate on strategic management issues that will save money or – even better – drive revenue growth.

As well as taking away some of the challenges of running an effective IT resource, the cloud can be used to achieve competitive advantage, to create efficiency, stimulate collaboration and facilitate information-sharing. The cloud encourages IT departments to think about the business strategically, rather than performing a support service.

As IT moves towards using cloud to deploy technology in more strategic ways, naturally the skills needed become broader.

Technical competency in the cloud

With elastic infrastructure, finding people with the right skills is difficult. Using the cloud can a very different experience for those used to dealing with physical servers but the severity of the change depends on whether infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS) is the chosen route.

It’s easier to train staff to use IaaS products such as Amazon’s EC2 because you’re really just dealing with another form of hosting. The concept of servers, networks and software deployment remains largely the same.

At a basic level, IT needs to…

 

…understand the concept, user interface and perhaps the API but little else. Designing with cloud in mind is desirable but not essential and so moving to IaaS should not be a painful experience in terms of skills.

A shift to the cloud requires you to take security probably more seriously than ever before<

A shift to the cloud requires you to take security probably more seriously than ever beforePhoto: Shutterstock

Skills area 1. Platform as a service

However, PaaS products such as Microsoft’s Azure represent a whole new frontier and require much tighter integration with software development and application lifecycle management to realise maximum benefits.

IT departments have to redesign application with PaaS in mind and the deployment model is largely driven by how the service provider offers its service.

PaaS will almost certainly require the greater level of retraining and the skills learned will not necessarily be transferable should you choose to change PaaS vendors.

Skills area 2. Security awareness

The other major skills issue lies in security. This is a large, complex area where skills are already in short supply. Here, expertise often goes beyond the technical into legislation and differs from country to country.

So, a shift to the cloud requires you to take security probably more seriously than ever before. The mindset needs to be cultivated in IT that mitigating the risk of data compromise, particularly in public cloud, is a fundamental part of deployment and hosting.

That might sound obvious but moving completely to cloud suddenly puts former datacentre-only communications into the public domain and introduces potential vulnerabilities that may never have been considered.

Security awareness is definitely an area to revisit when planning reskilling.

Skills area 3. Deployment savvy

Moving to cloud is also a good time to review how you manage your software deployments. For IaaS, the approach may not be too unfamiliar but PaaS will introduce complexities in metadata which have to be part of your deployment process.

If you don’t already use automation to deploy, it is essential you do for the cloud – so there’s more reskilling to consider.

In short, many IT departments move from physical environments to the cloud and expect it to perform the same. In reality the cloud is a completely different beast. No two clouds are the same.

The cloud is full of commercial opportunity but it is not as simple as many expect. IT departments need to look carefully at their teams to consider who in their talent pool are self-learners, who have transferable skills and who are unlikely to make the change.

Moving to the cloud is a change management process. Human resources departments might need to be briefed and involved to help attract and retain the best talent. But don’t be put off from making the change. There is no huge skills chasm to cross – certainly nothing that you can’t take in your stride given the right preparation.

Ian Molyneaux has worked in IT for over 35 years and is head of performance at software consultancy Intechnica, which specialises in .NET development and performance assurance for the enterprise with a focus on cloud.