The IT Infrastructure Shake Up

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that things are changing drastically in the IT infrastructure (IT Pro) world.  Last year I attended a talk by Don Jones who scared the ***t out of an audience.  He said that in a few years time, there would be much fewer IT Pro jobs.  What we’d have is a smaller set of junior or operator engineers, almost no one in the middle and a small group of senior engineers.  Those who would rise to the top and stay in IT would be those who could learn something inside-out and learn to leverage automation.  And to get to that level, these engineers will have to be interested in their jobs, not be one of those 10-till-4 types I’ve discussed before.  Key to their success will be the ability to learn on their own and to provide business solutions, not IT ones.

How this is going to happen is becoming evident now.  You’ve probably heard of Cloud Computing and SaaS but I’ll quickly talk about them. 

Would you build a nuclear power plant in your back yard if you need electricity in your house?  Probably not, but we take this approach whenever we need a new business application.  Take a CRM application.  It might need a database and an application server.  If fault tolerance is required then you need more servers, clustering, etc.  All this IT complexity is added to non-IT companies every day and they find themselves becoming accidental IT companies.  Sure, there are consultancy and field engineering companies but they don’t take the pain away.  For example, when a CRM must be upgraded there’s more servers, operating systems, a costly project and a data migration.  The non-IT company finds itself immersed in an IT project that consumes time and money and puts their business data at risk.  It’s not just CRM either … it’s everything from the SBS server, tape backups, databases, ERP systems, risk management, etc.

The principle of Software as a Service (SaaS) is that you should avoid this on-site installation and consume applications on an as-needed basis.  Your service should be like a household utility, e.g. sign a supply contract for electricity and turn the power switch on and off as required.  You know how much a unit costs and you can budget accordingly.  We’ve seen how companies like SalesForce and Google have done this with their services.  Microsoft isn’t far behind (BPOS) either.  SaaS isn’t just for special online solutions.  You can cut the costs and complexities of owning many solutions, e.g. a DR site, your internal IT systems in an outsourced deployment, etc.

This all requires a service delivery mechanism.  Some companies like Google and MS are big enough and skilled to host their own solutions on the Internet in high quality data centres.  However, smaller or niche companies looking to build a SaaS service can’t build something of that quality.  They need a quality data centre (not a computer room) because their business is dependent on this facility.  Not all data centres are the same either.  You’ll want to check them out and get advice from people who know the industry.  Don’t base any decisions on web sites, press releases, marketing or your own IT experiences.  The data centre world is very complex and full of many deep pitfalls that can end your career.

So if you cannot build your own data centre for your SaaS product then you can use Cloud Computing.  The idea is simple.  A service provider owns, manages and leases an infrastructure.  You simply subscribe for the functionality you require as you need it.  Most software developers aren’t IT infrastructure experts so building and managing a best practice and secure architecture is hard for them.  With a good hosting partner, they can use this black box solution called Cloud Computing to rapidly get the server/network resources they need and grow/shrink them as customer demand changes.

Before I go any further, not every application will be SaaS and not every server will migrate to the cloud.  Some organisations just won’t be able to for security, unionisation or complexity reasons.

Here’s the rub for IT pros.  If you don’t work for one of these cloud computing firms you might not have a job in 10 years.  Think about this … if your employer can reduce costs and complexity by using SaaS applications or servers that reside in the cloud then do they really need you?  They already perceive IT infrastructure departments as a cost centre that eats up budget and delivers 80% of what they promise … late.

So where I am thinking most IT pro jobs will be in the future?  In the data centre that hosts cloud computing infrastructures.  Operators are junior staff that look after the physical infrastructure.  They rack servers, run cables and look after the NOC.  They’re the first point of call for support issues.  There’s always a good number of these folks to maintain a 24 operation (… or there should be.  Try knocking on the door of any data centre you’re considering at 2am to check out promises of 24 hour on site presence.  You’ll be surprised who makes claims and who fails to live up to them!).  The folks who design and deploy systems will be the senior engineers.  In a large facility these will often be specialists, e.g. firewall CCIE’s, messaging experts, server OS guru’s, DBA’s, etc.  Not only must they understand complex technologies but they must know how to handle huge workloads efficiently.  They’ll be managing a huge number of machines and applications so automation will be critical.  Using correctly designed solutions they can take control of the network.  Have a look at the concepts of Optimised Infrastructure and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

We’ve heard the talk about outsourcing before.  Some companies did bring in IT companies to replace their IT staff but there’s no cost savings there.  Quite the opposite to be honest when you replace like for like at a higher daily rate.  But being able to access subscription based services from a quality data centre with centralised expertise and management systems will give the financial and business reasons for employers to reconsider their IT situation.  This isn’t just me talking, it’s every big brain out there.  I attended a session in Barcelona that said IT will have completed a swing that way in 10 years time.  If you’re an application developer then you actually need to be engineering your SaaS solution now or it’s already too late!

If you’re an IT Pro and that’s your career choice rather than an accident then my advice is to get really good at something and learn how to use automation to manage a network.

2 thoughts on “The IT Infrastructure Shake Up”

  1. I agree 100% with you. I have the same thoughts since all these new concepts about cloud computing come out.
    Not only IT pros but also ISV or system integrator need to adapt and get ready to this new scenario.
    We can also see it as a good opportunity for us, any techie with some knowledge of project and service management can be in a priviliged position once the companies decide to start moving to the cloud. Be one of the first selling the cloud can be a good opportunity … 🙂
    It is not the Big fish necessarily eat small fish; fast fish eat slow fish!
  2. "It is not the Big fish necessarily eat small fish; fast fish eat slow fish! "
    Fantastic line!  I’m gonna steal that one 🙂  We’ve been talking to people at work and we’re seeing a lot of resistance to the concepts of SaaS and the cloud from ISV’s.  They’re clinging to their server sales with their "cold, dead hands".  Kind of appropriate that … because those companies may end up being dead if they don’t evolve before their competition.  This applies equally to Honest Joe’s SBS Server Sales and to Dell.  Server sales will definitely be dropping, not just because of a recession, but because demand will be for much fewer machines thanks to centralisation in the cloud.  On-site application developers will have to innovate new solutions for the cloud or find themselves without customers.
    This is "Mainframe VS Client/Server" all over again.  In that battle, the big giant of IBM lost out to the smaller Microsoft and upstart h/w firms.
    This is an opportunity for those in a position to innovate and a career maker for those who put themselves in a position to be employable.

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