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Are IT Roles Changing?

The quick answer is YES! They are most definitely changing, expanding, getting more involved and complex. For the longest time the IT department in organizations was a feared entity. When I say "feared," I am using the term loosely here to imply that because the rest of the company did not understand what we did, because what we did seemed complex and "very smart" to most of them, they avoided us.

I would venture to say we came across as intimidating and as a result they avoided us on many levels -- even at the highest executive levels. They knew that there is a need for IT. A CIO might be able to communicate and bridge the gap, but IT was always viewed as a cost center, an area of the business that always spent money. But the business never understood or quantified what its return on this investment was. This led to IT organization outsourcing and a whole slew of things -- CXOs would look at the balance sheets and see this big spend in IT.

Fast forward many years and many trials and erros and catastrophes with outsourcing and other models and you find yourself on the brink of the cloud era. I'm aware that this term causes a lot of confusion and I can feel some of you giggling already. The term started a marketing bubble that implied nothing. To this day I sit with customers and when I bring up the cloud, they laugh and then say, "Let's define the cloud."

My advice to you today is, don't be those people anymore. The cloud era is here and whether it's private or public it now has shape, has form, has "teeth." We can define it, quantify it and we can build it. Heck, Microsoft even created a button in System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 called "Deploy Private Cloud." (For the record, that is priceless!)

When I say cloud, many of you will probably think, "If it's here, why don't I see it and feel it?" What I am telling you today is, sometimes it takes a while before something gets to your level or starts to affect you.

Recall that even virtualization started off slow. Some customers put it in test and dev, others did not even want it anywhere near the production environment, some customers did not even want it in the production Active Directory (true story) for fear it would corrupt something. All this because they did not understand it, it was a disruptive technology, but virtualization at some point went mainstream.

Private Cloud today is on the brink of a similar widespread adoption phase just as virtualization was. Frankly, the cloud is at that point because of virtualization. When we virtualized our physical compute infrastructure, we saw great CapEx savings and high consolidation ratios, etc. But we really did not do things that much differently: We took the same practices that we had refined over many years and now implemented them in a virtualized datacenters with some minor tweaks here and there to accommodate the technology, but our role did not change much, our daily activities did not change much. We just dealt less with the hardware. Virtualization, however, introduced many new challenges that our fine-tuned processes did not account for, such as VM sprawl, storage sprawl, etc.

While this transformation was happening in the data center, another form of transformation was happening at the consumer level in that technology companies were no longer marketing to us IT folks. Instead, they found a larger crowd that can immediately consume their product using personal credit cards and they did not have to wait for weeks and months for us to make those large purchases. Borne out of that movement was the consumerization of IT.

You are probably asking yourself how that affects you, right? Consumerization broke the fear barrier that consumers had of IT, they found themselves all of a sudden not as "dumb" as they thought they were or maybe how we made them to be. Hey, I can have cloud storage with Dropbox, I can create my own e-mail account, I can do video conferencing with Skype just like I do at work where this mean IT guy will give me attitude if I ask for help. I can go on forever with services that were previously just a privilege to have access to as part of working for this enterprise. Today, the consumer knows what we can do and if we don't facilitate, well, they'll substitute us and more -- often than not -- we don't even know they are going around us.

This consumer also affected the way we do business because they are now used to getting the service they want almost instantly from their new IT best friends. The notion of "it will take two weeks" to get the server hardware and software installed and configured before the application guy or business owner can have access, well that's no longer a viable notion. Business is moving faster, our consumers are moving faster, and as a result we either catch up or get replaced. Period. The end.

So here's where the cloud comes in. When you start looking at private cloud, it very quickly becomes apparent that it is all about automation, orchestration, business process decomposition and automation, using ITIL best practices, getting more involved in accounting practices in order to enable showback and chargeback. Do you want to transform IT from a cost center to a services center? You need to understand your accounting practices, talk to them, design how they will account for these charges, and so on.

I can talk about what cloud does for a while, but I think you get the picture. Your role is not as simple and as isolated or as siloed as it was before. It used to be Toys'R'Us for adults because we focused on the infrastructure so much and our world revolved around it, . Today, I am inviting you to grow that role and expand it. Network architects are no longer going to just deal with routers and switches. Why? Because the virtualization administration took away some of their duties and softwared-defined networking will completely take them away from the hardware. Acquisitions like Cisco's Meraki introduces network management from the cloud, because IP storage forces them to understand storage. I can make the case for each of the other IT roles in an organization. It is converging. Embrace it.

This all culminates in converged infrastructures. No one will have the time or patience to buy things separately and put them together anymore. You are expected to be up and running faster, and be more reliable. Once there is a converged infrastructure in place, then there should be a converged admin/engineer in place -- maybe even a data center admin -- a person or group of people responsible for data center hardware. The rest of us? We get elevated to the software level with no physical data center access.

At the software level, we now need to learn ITIL best practices if we don't already, because private cloud processes are wrapped around business processes. We now have to build processes that govern us as well. We have to get involved in applications, figure out how to quickly deploy them, monitor them, and charge for them. You're probably saying, "Eli, this is not new, we do it today." YES, I know! But we do it in a very manual and slow way. Rather, we have to do it in a very automated and fast way, adding self-service and metering capabilities.

While private cloud is starting to show signs of implementations and while Microsoft and VMware have clearly identified the components and strategies, I want to stress and encourage you to start building your knowledge and understanding of the private cloud away from the sarcastic nuances that exist out there. Deploying a private cloud is not an easy task. It is a very detail-oriented, complex and exhaustive task that requires people with technical skill sets and business sense to pull it off right.

Private clouds provide for better job security because of the complexity. You become more valuable and are looked at differently. I know you are probably still doing things the way you have been, but use this time to build your skill sets so that you are leading the transformation not trying to catch up to it.

I realize this is a controversial post and invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 12/05/2012 at 12:49 PM


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