Cloud Computing forces IT “Evolve or Perish”

When I started this blog I thought I’d be talking about technology on a regular basis and so far I haven’t.  This is still somewhat business related but it is also very tech heavy.  The tech focused pieces I intend to explain at a level that an average “nerd” gets but the average adult can read.

Earlier today I spent an hour watching one of the Rackspace founders deliver a training video intended for new hires in 1999.  In the video they go through the complexity of ensuring hardware works properly together, that the OS is installed properly, and that DNS is configured properly. Now just 10 years later much of this is significantly simplified.  When is the last time you spent time dealing with an “IRQ conflict” or “checking jumper settings” (hardware related troubleshooting that is automagic today)?

Now as we move to cloud computing with pre-defined virtual machine images the “OS is installed properly” piece is going away.  Projects like TurnKey Linux will lead to one-click application stacks on top of an OS.  For much of the IT community their career has been performing these tasks.  Now instead of an application developer needing a system administrator to “build the server” they go to a web based control panel, pick the system type they want and click “create” and the server is spawned.

It isn’t that the system administrator career is being completely eliminated; rather instead of every company needing their own system administrators in the future the computing providers will need them and general business will only need to have an IT staff that works on their specific business applications.  Business won’t need to have many other “building block” level IT roles either: networking, desktop support, and storage/backup administrators.

Many in the IT industry think I’m taking things a bit far when we have this discussion.  I don’t believe it’ll happen over night but during the next 10-20 years it will. Looking back in the past nobody has a “typing pool” to type up hand written notes, a “courier” to deliver a message across town in a hurry, or a “research” department to go look up basic information we all have access to now through a search engine in a matter of seconds.

This is where the “evolve or perish” comes in.  If you’re within 10 years of retirement and focused on the building blocks you may want to consider a job at an infrastructure company or risk the business you work for now eliminating your position in a transition to cloud computing.  If you’re at the start of your career and focused on those building blocks you need to be the best and brightest in your field so you can obtain one of the service provider jobs in a much smaller market going foward.  Your other option is to evolve and move further up the application stack.  This could mean learning how to properly architect an application to make the most cost effective use of the utility priced OS clouds or it could mean going all the way up the stack to interface design.

This isn’t all doom and gloom.  Evolution and automation like this increase productivity allowing us to focus on moving forward more rapidly.  If you enjoy your IT industry job start asking your employer what you can learn above and beyond the building blocks to help out.  While you may not need to today it is much better to be ahead of the game rather than waiting around for a layoff to start learning in panic mode.