How cloudy is your IT career?

I have heard a lot of conversations about the impact of the cloud on Information Technology (IT) careers. People are worried that the positions they hold in IT will be eliminated because “it’s in the cloud”. Even the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is being questioned. Like the REM song, some IT workers are seeing the end of the world as they know it. Not all of them feel fine, but I am not so sure it’s the end of the world; I think maybe the world has just rotated a bit, so I feel fine.

Let’s start with a definition of Information Technology. Based on Merriam Webster, information technology is the technology involving the development, maintenance, and use of computer systems, software, and networks for the processing and distribution of data, where technology is defined as the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area. Also consider the definition of engineering or the design and manufacture of complex products.

When I think of IT careers, I think of the Corporate IT department focused internally on the practical application of technology knowledge to run the applications and infrastructure that are used for the business operations of an enterprise from marketing through support. Engineering, on the other hand, is externally focused on creation of revenue generating (preferably) products offered to a targeted customer base often based on the use of computer systems, software and networks (IT). In some organizations the IT department supports engineering and sometimes it doesn’t, that is always an interesting conversation; is support of the infrastructure for Engineering an IT or an Engineering career, the activities are often quite similar and Engineering platforms are often good cloud candidates. So are IT or Engineering careers more affected by the cloud? I am not sure either, but let’s keep going.

Beyond IT support of engineering platforms as a career, there is career rotation going on from IT into Engineering. Take networking for example; it is a core competency for ensuring that clouds continue to float.

Capabilities are moving around, some things that used to be delivered in hardware are delivered in firmware and firmware in software (that’s why the word “mostly” is in the picture). But more important from an IT career perspective is the move of tasks that were done manually into software. Now instead of having an IT career in a company implementing and supporting their network you might rotate into a company developing a product that does what you used to do manually (isn’t that what technology is all about) and have an Engineering career, still technology focused just a little rotation. You can take this rotation to other information technology disciplines as well. Look at the whole concept of virtualization and the Engineering careers created from IT needs being looked at in different ways and solved through technology.

The use of the term information technology continues to become broader since computer systems, software and networks have become ubiquitous. You can be talking about the CIO and the Corporate IT department running your business (IT careers) or any aspect of technology used to run anything, anywhere, which for my purposes I am going to call Service Provider IT (SPIT). OK, maybe not the best acronym, how about IT Operations as a Service (ITOaaS).

Anyway, the cloud still runs on physical machinery; maybe fewer and larger but boxes are not going away any time soon. I think that is one of the biggest hypes about cloud, at the end of the day it’s still computer systems, software and networks, information technology. There will always be a requirement for installing new hardware and someone still has to use the wonderful products created by those IT to Engineering career rotations. The question is who’s going to be operating and supporting those boxes. If you are using public XaaS, then ITOaaS is included in your XaaS. The IT career doesn’t go away; it just rotates to your XaaS provider. Perhaps you are a company that provides an XaaS platform, then you will still require those IT operations skills within your organization, the only question is this an Corporate IT or an ITOaaS career. The needs still exist, it’s just a question of rotation of the world, or not.

One thing that you can be sure of, everything does not work perfectly all the time (remember Murphy’s Law). The cloud is founded on the concept of fault tolerance and high availability but I have experienced the finger pointing that occurs when an application is not working as expected. Every supplier claimed 100% uptime, but that was not my user’s experience. Who do you think those users are going to call? I suppose it depends on who has what contract with what provider. Your XaaS providers will be looking individually at their components, but you are the one with the vested interest in getting things running again. You need someone to drive the incident response. Take a look at the ITIL processes; I think many of them will still be performed within your company by IT professionals.

No matter if it’s public, private or hybrid; single or multi-tenant, the cloud runs on computer systems, software and networks (information technology) which are still designed, developed, delivered and supported by people. There are still plenty of career choices in the broad field of IT. It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

© Ellen Terwilliger 2012


Get to the cloud (and save money)!

How many C-level executives have heard or uttered this phrase in the last week; for that matter in the last 24 hours? And how many of them really know what they are asking for?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology gives a good high level definition of the cloud. Is cloud computing really that new? As with most things, life is circular (what goes around comes around), so maybe the technology specifics are new but not the concept. Anyway, the definition states that the cloud will save money (hence the utterings in the c-suite). Cloud vendors (and what hardware or software supplier isn’t a cloud provider today?) continually ensure that the cloud will save you money; so it must be true, right? But will it really? Like all things, the answer is – it depends (don’t you hate that!).

There are great reasons for using Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS). I think particularly in R&D situations where you have varying compute needs versus having dedicated hardware to meet your highest capacity compute requirements. Crunching big data is probably another area where the cloud could save money. In both scenarios I believe you need data retention policies that are enforced (probably true in or out of the cloud) to ensure your variable storage requirements and associated costs don’t just escalate. You have cost in set up and ensuring you continue to get what you pay for over time but you are relived of the day-to-day operational costs and pay for the benefits. I am sure you have other scenarios where you can save money using compute services in the cloud.

As indicated in an earlier blog, I love applications; I appreciate infrastructure (IaaS and PaaS) but it’s really just a vehicle to run applications (I am not biased or anything)! So I have a business operations application centric view when looking at the cloud. Software as a Service (SaaS) is the predominant cloud choice (or whatever aaS you want to call the on-demand flavor) for running your business. I am not convinced that the cloud is always a money saver in this situation.

The Upper Edge LLC blog has an interesting series about SaaS and On Demand contracts and whether there is really a lot of difference in your cost commitments, SaaS Matters: When “On Demand” Really Isn’t.  For you finance people in the crowd (or is that cloud) how do you feel about capital expense (CapEx) versus operational expense (OpEx)? I am such a conservative that predictable CapEx depreciation makes me feel good. Although from the Upper Edge point of view, maybe you get predictable OpEx using cloud SaaS options. Variable expense is something you should consider as you think about getting to the cloud and saving money.

Another cloud cost consideration from a business operations perspective is integration. Certainly in the early stages of your company, getting your business up and running is a great economical use of SaaS. And fit for function SaaS offerings which are best of breed in doing one thing really well are great choices too. But get too many independent SaaS offerings that need to work together and your cost savings may begin to erode or even disappear. There is not only the cost of integrating the applications but productivity must be considered also. If a single user has to go to multiple applications to complete their work and the configurations and integrations do not provide the necessary consistency, productivity could very well take a dive. The cost of supporting your business users in your unique cloud environment will also be affected by the consistency of integrations.

The cloud and saving money may often but not always be synonymous; it depends. So be cautious if cost savings are your only reason to “Get to the Cloud!”

© Ellen Terwilliger 2012