Acquiring the Right Cloud Skills Will Be Major Challenge for IT in 2019

    As the rate at which applications are being either built on or shifted into the cloud accelerates, it’s become clear that IT organizations will need to more aggressively either develop new skills internally or recruit IT professionals that already have them. Recruiting that talent, however, is likely to be a major challenge as the number and types of cloud computing platforms being employed continues to rapidly evolve.

    The first wave of cloud computing essentially replicated existing IT environments by allowing virtual machines to be programmatically spun up in the cloud. The second wave of cloud computing will be driven by microservices enabled by containers and serverless computing frameworks. The trouble is that there are even fewer IT professionals available with the DevOps skills to master these emerging so-called “cloud native” technologies than there are currently IT professionals that have mastered the nuances of managing virtual machines or a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environment running in the cloud.

    A survey of 124 IT leaders conducted by OpsRamp, a provider of IT operations management software, finds IT job candidates with solid skills in DevOps/site reliability engineering (33 percent), multi-cloud management (24 percent) and cloud-native  development (22 percent) are in the most demand. A third of respondents say that they are finding it difficult to find IT professionals with these skills, while well over a third of respondents (38 percent) describe their skill shortage as being quite large.

    A significant part of the problem is that most IT organizations still rely on ITIL frameworks that are not as flexible as DevOps processes, says Jordan Sher, director of corporate marketing for OpsRamp. The need to be more agile will require IT organizations to find new IT talent that can be expensive to hire, or retrain their existing staffs while at the same time relying more on artificial intelligence (AI) to automate IT process, says Sher.

    “We’re seeing a lot of appetite for AI,” says Sher.

    Keeping up with Skill Sets

    The challenge is that IT processes that need to be automated are themselves rapidly transforming as IT organizations move beyond deploying monolithic applications on virtual machines in the cloud. The rise of microservices is requiring IT organizations to deploy, manage and secure what could easily become hundreds, even thousands, of microservices strewn across the enterprise. In fact, those microservices are likely to span both on-premises IT environments and several public clouds.

    IT administrators across the board are going to have to significantly expand their current skillsets into the realm of becoming engineers, says Rafi Khardalian, senior director for private cloud engineering at Cisco. As monolithic applications give way to microservices, cloud computing is no longer just going to be about managing a fixed number of virtual machines, adds Khardalian. The overall IT environment will become more dynamic as dependencies between microservices and serverless frameworks are navigated and containers are constantly updated, says Khardalian.

    “It’s not going to be sufficient to be an administrator,” says Khardalian.

    Some IT organizations will also need to determine to what degree they will want to manage IT infrastructure. Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, is making much more of the IT environment that it provides available as a service it manages on behalf of customers. With the recent launch of Amazon Outposts, an instance of the IT infrastructure that can be deployed in a local data center, those managed services are now being extended to on-premises IT environments.

    “Customers are now asking us for more prescriptive guidance,” says Deepak Singh, director of compute services for AWS.

    In many cases, that will mean relying on cloud service providers to manage infrastructure while the IT organization shifts more of its resources into building and deploying applications that run on top of that infrastructure. Many of those organizations have concluded that the infrastructure on which those applications depend is of undifferentiated value to the business, says Singh.

    Similarly, Google is advising customers that its ambition is to provide the site reliability engineer (SRE) services at the infrastructure level on their behalf, says Chen Goldberg, director of engineering for Google Cloud. IT organizations can then concentrate on applications, says Goldberg.

    “IT organizations need to develop SRE skills at the application level,” says Goldberg.

    Of course, not every IT organization is going to be comfortable ceding that level of control over their IT infrastructure. In fact, there are many industries where governance and security requirements make relying on external managed service providers problematic.

    When it comes to retraining IT organizations on how to master cloud-native computing technologies, the best path is to pick a team to blaze a path that others can later follow, says Jason McGee, vice president and CTO for IBM Cloud. That approach tends to sharply reduce resistance to change within the IT organization, says McGee.

    “There tends to be a lot of inertia about who owns what inside an organization,” says McGee.

    Creating a cross-functional team of IT professionals dedicated to achieving one specific application goal significantly increases the overall chances of success, says McGee.

    Cloud computing in all its forms is clearly here to stay. A survey of 600 IT leaders conducted by ClearPath Strategies on behalf of the Cloud Foundry Foundation (CFF), which oversees the development of an open source platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environment, finds over 50 percent of IT decision makers report developing 60 percent or more of their applications in the cloud. Nearly half (45 percent) of companies are doing at least some cloud-native app development, and 40 percent are doing some re-architecting/refactoring of their legacy apps. Nearly half (47 percent) say they have now deployed more than 100 containers.

    Given that shift, it should not be that surprising that 57 percent now believe agile development and continuous deployment should be the highest business priorities, and that 44 percent say the bigger problem for their company is the need for culture change, compared to only 33 percent who say selecting and integrating the right tools and technologies.

    Virtual machines and PaaS environments are not ever going away. They will be employed alongside containers and serverless computing frameworks well into the next decade and beyond. The issue IT teams need to come to terms with now is figuring out how to master all the various flavors of the cloud manifesting themselves across an increasingly diverse IT ecosystem.

    Mike Vizard
    Mike Vizard
    Michael Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist, with nearly 30 years of experience writing and editing about enterprise IT issues. He is a contributor to publications including Programmableweb, IT Business Edge, CIOinsight and UBM Tech. He formerly was editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise, where he launched the company’s custom content division, and has also served as editor in chief for CRN and InfoWorld. He also has held editorial positions at PC Week, Computerworld and Digital Review.

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