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How cloud computing can change roles in an IT organization

February 4, 2011

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On any given day, most IT managers are mostly worried and concerned about two single but very important things to them: people and budgets. The rest usually isn't a really big priority, unless there are pressing security matters that need to be addressed rapidly.

Having said that, it's interesting to think about what the people side of cloud computing is going to look like in a year from now. How will cloud computing change the various roles within an IT department and how will it change their importance, relative to one another?

It's almost impossible to understand such questions without understanding the basic environment in which IT staff will be working in the cloud computing future. Now you can think of scale: large amounts of data, more virtual servers, more applications, larger applications and many more rapidly evolving applications.

Not so long ago, growth in computing capacity was mirrored by a linear growth in headcount. It's clear today that this phenomenon is highly unsustainable at the scale IT will have to operate in the very near future. Companies can't and won't support the scale growth with headcount as in the past, however, and with very valid reasons. And budgets are one of the most important ones.

The solution is quite clear: the substitution of software automation for what was manual interaction. This is the only possible scenario that IT will be able to cope with the one, two or three order of magnitude growth of scale the future will hold soon.

The staff of IT organizations all over the globe will soon need to implement and support that software automation and on many levels. In the past, what used to be implemented manually will soon have to be standardized, captured in rules and executed without any human interaction.

So what will all of this mean for IT personnel when automation is integrated within various information systems and processes? Well there could be some likely implications for all the people concerned.

The number one prerequisite for automation is standardization, and the focus here is customization. IT departments will be forced to implement standardized infrastructures, application architectures and system automation. Developing, implementing and enforcing standardized architectures requires skilled technical architects, and every IT organization will need this role desperately.

Software applications will become functionality added onto a collection of standardized components assembled in common configurations. Some companies already have enterprise architects but their influence is often muted by the needs of the business, which causes non-standard applications to be implemented.

The availability of public cloud providers tempts business units to pursue shadow IT initiatives, so it's rather difficult to predict how this will play out in various companies. One thing is for sure though: scale demands automation, which demands standardization.

Which leads us to the next changed role in a cloud IT organization. There's a lot of talk about devops, a term that means that operations personnel and operations requirements are involved earlier in the application development cycle to ensure that the resulting application is scalable and supportable. That's fine, but it implies that operations has designed infrastructure systems that can be operated in an automated fashion and that operations insist in operating in a hands-off manner.

Devops is a shorthand term that subsumes many assumptions, including the ability of operations personnel to be involved early in order to avoid manual interaction later.

Any process that requires a human touch can be questionable when it comes to automation, especially if that human lacks the proper training on how to deal with a specific event. Many of the private cloud structures today envision large-scale infrastructure integration being operated in the same old way, so that a resource request portal is offered for application developers. However, all of what happens here is that the portal sends out an email for an operations person to adequately provision some IT resources in the same old manual way.

Any original plan that envisions implementing a cloud infrastructure to dissuade application groups from using public providers without including an operations process re-engineering effort as well is doomed from the start, some IT experts say.

Additionally, IT and various business units will also need to make IT resource allocation decisions quickly and cost-effectively for the project to be successful. No matter how large or small, IT departments all over the globe will need the equivalent of what airlines refer to as yield management: financial analysts capable of developing pricing structures and offerings to allocate scarce internal resources and guide appropriate applications toward external providers. And yes: the airline industry is one of the most competitive in today's economy.

Amazon implements this today with its reserved instances and spot pricing, however, most of its EC2 efforts are designed to increase broader utilization in order to raise prices to the end customer. For internal IT groups, the challenge is likely to be in the other direction: with so much demand and a limited resource pool, measures must be actively devised to reduce demand.

A complementary requirement to this financial capability is an operational and system management capability to support hybrid cloud environments with real-time application deployment options possible.

Also, the vision of automated resource availability clashes with after-the-fact compliance review. For cloud computing to achieve its own narrowly focused vision, the legal and regulatory compliance requirements for applications must be part of the provisioning process.

The insights of compliance staff must be carefully integrated into the service catalog that is provided to resource consumers, which means that these skill sets need to be part of the IT infrastructure and operations group. Part of the decision-making process for that real-time deployment rule change has to be the compliance implications of deployment location, which requires integration of these IT requirements into the automated provisioning process.

Sounds complicated? Not really. The Jericho Forum refers to the new model of computing as deperimeterized, meaning that Internet security can no longer focus on implementing measures at the boundary of the data center. This trend is largely intensified by the elastic, transitory nature of computing resources in cloud computing environments.

Security must be applied at every computing endpoint, and must be implemented automatically as part of a virtual machine initiation. This requires a complete rethinking of the security products used, the methods by which they're installed and configured, and how security is monitored at every level. Security personnel need to develop a new strategy and, similar to the devops concept, get involved early in the process in order that the appropriate security measures and processes are automatically injected into every instantiated computing endpoint.

You'll notice that only one of all these changes relates to infrastructure personnel. It's an unfortunate reality that many people view cloud computing as purely an infrastructure modernization project without recognizing the further ramifications of running a cloud computing environment.

Additionally, it presages a lengthy disillusionment when the other ramifications of running a cloud computing infrastructure begin to sink in to all the people involved. What one can say with confidence is that when infrastructure changes, so too must the superstructure in order to align with the underlying foundation into a whole structure that has to be unique at the same time.

This is familiar territory for those that happen to know Clayton Christensen. He extensively addresses the challenges various institutions and IT departments all face when attempting to apply an innovation without modifying the general practices of the organization.

His prescription for this is for the existing institution to set up a separate, segregated organization chartered with implementing the innovation and achieving the necessary operational and financial results. Applied to IT organizations, this would advocate setting up a cloud subsidiary, chartered with creating a new mode of operation.

Now the overall challenges of accomplishing such a feat for most IT organizations are obvious, but the advantages of doing so are there.

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Source: High Tech News Today.


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