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Virtualization and Cloud Computing: Adapt or Go Extinct

A SolarWinds survey finds a radically different IT landscape than what existed a few short years ago, and much has to do with virtualization and cloud computing.

The world of information technology, and the people who fill IT staff positions, are experiencing an evolutionary change. The IT landscape has radically changed over the past several years with the introduction of virtualization and cloud computing. It has also been complicated by the rise of security threats that directly affect the implementation of cloud computing.

A recent SolarWinds survey of 298 IT pros investigated the emerging technologies affecting the role of IT and how IT pros are prepared to respond. Foremost, IT pros are dealing with an increasing level of complexity, complicated by declining resources (both human and tools). They are no longer just dealing with computers in the server room, but are now expected to meet a wide range of user needs across the entire organization, such as the ability to have 24x7 access from multiple devices: traditional desktops/notebooks, as well as tablets and phones.

Automation
Automation is rapidly becoming a real component of IT environments. The top two skills identified in the survey as targets for automation were server management and virtualization. An important implication of this automation is that the majority of IT pros who currently perform roles within the realms of server management and virtualization will need to be cross-trained into other skill sets.

Top Skill Sets Needed
Over 50 percent of those surveyed view information security, cloud and virtualization (in that order) as the top skill sets that will grow in demand over the next three to five years. So, this begs the question: If virtualization is automated (which becomes cloud as a result), perhaps business analytics (fourth on the list) and mobile apps/device management (fifth) -- which is already here today in almost every organization -- are also relevant. Both of those skill sets, particularly business analytics, will require a significant investment on the part of business to properly develop within the IT staff.

Adaptability of IT Roles
While most of the responses did not show any extremes in response rates, the one question that did regarded the adaptability of IT roles to evolving technology. By a ratio of almost four-to-one, information security was identified as this role. Information security is a discipline in which many large organizations employ full-time practitioners, but within small- and medium-sized organizations, that role is typically a shared responsibility.

Security of on-premise resources has always been a challenging issue for IT pros responsible for that capability, and even more so for organizations that do not have full-time information security practitioners. However, as the IT landscape extends into the cloud, security will become an even more critical aspect of this emerging landscape.

Business Competitiveness
From a business perspective, making technology decisions must always be done within the realm of how they affect the competitiveness and profitability of the business. When the Internet became a commercial entity, how organizations viewed the Internet was a key component of the success of the business. Businesses who avoided or even denied the relevance of the Internet quickly found themselves left in the dust by competitors.

Today, IT pros have identified cloud computing as the most important technology investment needed for competitiveness. Those organizations who properly identify the role of cloud computing in their environments and develop operational plans for implementing that capability will continue to be market leaders in their industries.

Confidence
Another important aspect of this changing landscape is the psychological impact on IT professionals. Being comfortable with change and being confident in the ability to deal with those changes is an important factor in dealing with change successfully. Yet the survey showed that less than a third of IT pros indicated a strong level of confidence in their level of preparation for the future role of IT.

Consistent with the concerns about confidence, over half of IT pros identified the need for more training in their areas of responsibility, and over a third indicated a need for a better understanding of the business they work for.

Building confidence in staff will be a critical aspect of adapting to these changes, and confidence is built by being genuinely concerned about the future of IT pros within the organization, expressing commitments to the tenure of existing staff and providing necessary training.

Technical Training
It's certainly a reasonable expectation of a business that IT pros have a core technical skill set when they are hired. Such skill sets are typically defined in the job description itself. But technologies and skill sets are constantly changing. It's the responsibility of the organization to facilitate the professional development of their IT staffers. Whether that's done through directly providing training, or just facilitating the engagement in training opportunities, it is an important aspect of keeping up with change, as well as retaining quality (and qualified) staff members.

Business Training
Perhaps even more significant in today's environment is that IT pros are no longer insulated from the business as they may have been in the past. Today's IT pros must have a better understanding of business needs, because in today's technology-driven business environment, the needs of IT are the needs of the business.

As such, IT pros also require business skills training. For most organizations this will be a combination of two approaches: First, many IT pros will need some general business skills training; facilitating participation in college-level courses is a necessary starting point. Second and equally as important is training regarding the unique business aspects of the industry, competitors and specific business goals of the organization.

One thing we can be sure of is that the role of technology in business will continue to evolve. As it does, the role of the IT pro must continue to be redefined as they are required to better align capabilities and infrastructure with business goals, maximize the benefits of disruptive technologies and bring critical value to companies as a whole.

About the Author

Lawrence Garvin, MCITP, MCDBA, MCSA, is a head geek and SolarWinds technical product marketing manager. An eight-time Microsoft MVP, his 30 years in IT includes roles as a Unix and Windows system administrator, database programmer/architect, systems and network architect, IT manager/director and consultant. He currently writes on information security topics. Lawrence was a Titan II ICBM missile launch officer while serving in the U.S. Air Force in the 1980s.

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