Wednesday, November 24, 2010

As cloud computing changes IT roles, which IT jobs are on the ‘endangered species list’?

A funny thing happened during my Cloud Expo presentation in Santa Clara recently that I wasn’t expecting. I was trying to come up with a few points in the session where I could get a read on whether the audience was following me or not. And since my topic was “How Cloud Computing is Changing the Role of IT…and What You Can Do About it,” I figured at least someone would have an opinion. So I asked a few questions of the audience.

And (you guessed it), there was no shortage of opinions. In fact, I found myself in the middle of a full-fledged discussion. Especially when we started talking about which IT job titles were or were not going to exist any longer as a result of cloud computing. Interesting stuff. Here’s a summary of the presentation I gave, plus a few comments from the audience thrown in for color:

Cloud computing is causing two big IT-related role shifts. Cloud computing has given business users choices it didn’t have before; it’s breaking the monopoly that IT has had on the sourcing of IT service. It means business can go around IT, can “go rogue” and find the services they think best suit themselves. The doom & gloom scenario for IT is that it’s time to pack up and go do something else.

Will IT go away because of cloud computing? Half of my session attendees (which was two-thirds end users) thought that cloud computing will at least cause IT to lose jobs. However, I’m not nearly that negative; I tend to agree with our own Bert Armijo who likes to say that IT jobs don’t go away when faced with the Next Big Thing. They just reshuffle. So the real question, then, is what does the deck look like after all the shuffling is done? More on that in a moment.

First: IT is becoming an orchestrator of a new IT service supply chain

What I told folks at Cloud Expo is that from what I see, cloud computing and its focus on business services, rather than the underlying technology, are altering the broad responsibilities and the approach of IT. Cloud is changing IT’s role inside an organization. It opens up the possibility of getting IT service from many different sources and the corresponding need to orchestrate those many sources. Mike Vizard talked about this in a recent IT Business Edge article: “Senior IT leaders,” he said, “will soon find themselves managing a supply chain of IT services.”

This role as orchestrator of things you don’t own is a new one in some ways, though many folks have been managing outsourcing (similar in some ways) for a while now. Shifting all of IT to have this mindset is very significant; it means adjusting to a role as a service provider, selecting the best of both internal and external services as appropriate.

And that’s where things get interesting for the actual jobs inside the IT department. Some of those are going to have to change.

Second: how IT jobs themselves are changing

One of my points was that this IT supply chain concept creates a whole new set of questions, opportunities, and requirements to make things work. (Here’s an earlier post of mine describing some of those new requirements.) IT will certainly be more business-oriented and less focused on the underlying infrastructure components as layers of abstraction help make it smarter -- and possible -- to think beyond the nitty gritty.

So how is cloud changing the individual roles and jobs within the IT department? I identified 3 important influencers:

· Automation – fewer manual tasks means less demand for the people who do them today
· Abstraction – technical minutiae are less important to focus on, while the business service itself takes on a much more primary role
· Sourcing – vendor management and comparison (and some way to make choices) move to the forefront

Products (like several of ours) can help take these new approaches in what are often very fast, effective steps. But the IT folks themselves need to realize that they really need a new way of looking at their jobs, and, in fact, some of their jobs may end up very different from where they are today. That’s not a quick problem to solve. I remember this issue being a weighty problem back in my Cassatt days, too.

So what IT jobs are on the endangered species list?

At Cloud Expo, I listed off a bunch of titles to see what the audience thought were the soon-to-be-extinct IT jobs. I let people categorize the jobs as either Cockroaches (as in, “will always have a job,” you can’t get rid of them), Chimps (“need to adapt to survive”), or Dodos (“buh-bye”). OK, so the categories weren’t necessarily flattering, but it added a touch of levity to what can be a somber topic for IT.

My in-room responses had some dissenting opinions, obviously, but they were, in fact, surprisingly uniform. Here's where people more or less categorized a few different IT jobs:

Cockroaches: service provider vendor manager, SLA manager
Chimps: software/apps deployment person, network administrator, server monitoring/ “Mr. Fix-it”
Dodos: capacity planning, CIO

Yes, you just read that my audience thought CIOs were going to go extinct.

I sensed a bit of dramatic license was being taken for impact in the room, but the discussion was definitely interesting. There is certainly a case to be made that the tools, approaches, and processes that the CIO relies on today, for example, need to get a major revamp, or things will look pretty bleak for the folks in those jobs.

There was agreement that the business-level capabilities of the IT people who look at service levels and manage service providers matches up well with the shift that seems to be going on toward business-level conversations.

And, the realization that even the most core of administrator roles (network, server) and the break-fix mentality currently in place in a huge majority of IT shops just doesn’t seem as relevant in a world seriously involved with cloud computing. Or, at least, it makes sense that there will need to be an important set of adaptations. In the world of cloud computing, you don’t fix the malfunctioning commodity server. Instead, you ensure that your systems route around it (through internal or external sources) and continue to deliver the service.

It’s time for quite a lot of staff evolution, from the sounds of it. At least, that’s what my Cloud Expo audience thought. My next post will cover exactly that: I’ll build on these comments and look at the approaches, roles, and solutions that I highlighted to help IT leverage the cloud computing trend.
And for the squeamish, I'll try not to mention cockroaches again.
(If you'd like a copy of my Cloud Expo presentation, e-mail me at

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cloud Expo recap: Acceleration and pragmatism

Last week at Cloud Expo in Santa Clara was a pleasant surprise. Previous events had me a bit cautious, holding my expectations firmly in check. Why?

SYS-CON’s Santa Clara show in 2009 was disappointing in my book, filled with too much repetitive pabulum from vendors about the definition and abstract wonders of cloud computing, but none of the specifics. Of course, maybe there wasn’t much harm done, since there didn’t seem to be too many end users at the event. Yet.

The 2010 New York Cloud Expo show back in April was a leap forward from there. The location played a big role in its improvement over the fall event – placing it in Manhattan put within easy striking distance for folks on Wall Street and a bunch of other nearby industries. The timing was right, too, to give early end users of cloud computing a look at what the vendor community had been gradually building into a more and more coherent and useful set of offerings. A certain Icelandic volcano tried to put a kink in a few peoples’ travel plans, but in general, the April show was better.

And what about last week? A marked improvement, I say.

And that doesn’t even count the fun of watching the 3-run homer and final outs of the San Francisco Giants’ first-ever World Series win at the conference hotel bar with fellow attendees who were (also) skipping the Monday late sessions. Or the CA Technologies Led Zepplica party (‘70s hairdos and facial hair are in this year, it seems).

At Cloud Expo, however, I noticed two themes: the acceleration of end user involvement in the cloud computing discussion and a strong undercurrent of pragmatism from those end users.

Acceleration of end user involvement in cloud computing
Judging from the keynotes and session rooms, Cloud Expo attendance seemed to be quite a bit ahead of last year’s Santa Clara show. Jeremy Geelan and the SYS-CON folks can probably describe where those additional folks came from this time around officially, but I think I know. They were end users (or at least potential end users).

I say this for a couple reasons. At the CA Technologies booth, we had quite a few discussions with a significant number of interested end users during the 4 days on a variety of aspects around cloud computing. Discussions ranged from automation, to the role of virtualization management, to turnkey private cloud platforms.

Also, the presenters in several of the sessions I attended asked the make-up of the audience. I did the same during my “How the Cloud is Changing the Role of IT and What to Do About It” session. A full two-thirds of the audience members were in end user organizations. The remaining third identified themselves as service providers and vendors. For those keeping score, that’s a complete turn-about from last year’s event.
End users aren’t just along for the ride: showing a pragmatic streak regarding the cloud
Not only did there seem to be more customers, but the end users who were there seemed to be really interested in getting specific advice they could take back home the week after the show to use in their day jobs. The questions I heard were often pretty straightforward, basic questions about getting started with cloud.
They generally began with “My organization is looking at cloud. We’re interested in how we should…” and then launched into very particular topics. They were looking for particular answers. Not generalities, but starting points.
Some were digging into specifics on technologies or operating models. Others (like the ones I talked to after my “changing role of IT” session) were trying to get a handle on best practices for organizations and the IT responsibilities that need to be in place for an IT organization to really make forward progress with cloud computing. Those are really good questions, especially given how organizationally disruptive cloud can be. (I’ll post a summary of my talk on this topic shortly.)
My initial (snarky) comment was that since the end users were showing up only now, many speakers could have used their presentations from either of the past 2 Cloud Expo conferences for this instantiation of the event without too much trouble. But, I think many of the vendor presentations, too, have been improving as a result of working with actual customers over the past 12 months. But, there’s still lots of work to do on that front, in my opinion.
Infrastructure v. developers in the cloud?
James Urquhart of Cisco and CNET “Wisdom of Clouds” fame made an interesting point about the audience and the conversations he heard at Cloud Expo last week. “What struck me,” tweeted James, “was the ‘how to replicate what you are doing [currently in IT] in cloud’ mentality.”

Just trying to repeat the processes you have followed with your pre-cloud IT environment leaves out a lot of possible upside when you start really trying out cloud computing (see my recent post on this topic). However, in this case, James was more interested in why a lot of the discussion he heard at Cloud Expo targeted infrastructure and operations, not developers or “devops” concepts.

I did hear some commentary about how developers are becoming more integrated into the operations side of things (matching what the CTO of CA 3Tera AppLogic customer PGi said a few weeks back). However, I agree with James, it does seem like folks are focusing on selling to operations today, leaving the development impact to be addressed sometime in the future. James, by the way, recently did a great analysis piece on the way he thought IT operations should run in a cloudy world on his CNET blog.
Interesting offerings from cloud service providers
One other interesting note: there were several of the CA 3Tera AppLogic service provider partners that I was able to spend time with at the show. I met the CEO of ENKI, talked with the president and other key execs from Birdhosting, and got to see Berlin-based ScaleUp’s team face-to-face again. All are doing immediately useful things (several of which we profiled in the CA Technologies booth) to help their customers take advantage of cloud services now.
ScaleUp, for example, has put together a self-service portal that makes it easier for less technical users to get the components they need to get going on a cloud-based infrastructure. They call it “infrastructure as a platform.” Details are available in their press release and this YouTube walk-through.
So, all in all, it was a useful week from my point of view. If you have similar or contradictory comments or anecdotes, I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, I’ll finish up turning my Cloud Expo presentation into a blog post here. And I just might peek at my calendar to see if I can make it to the New York Cloud Expo event next June.