To hear providers tell it, cloud computing is utopia. Access is always-on, software is hosted rather than downloaded and security is at an all-time high. IT professionals, meanwhile, often have a very different view of the cloud, a less rosy image tempered by stories of sudden gaps in service, spotty security, or perhaps most damning – a cloud that works exactly as advertised, and makes an IT admin suddenly useless. Technology departments now find themselves faced with pressure from above to adopt cloud products, but unsure if distributed computing is friend or foe. What’s the real deal with the cloud?
Cloud Computing and Growing Concerns
Two years ago, a presentation by research firm Gartner at their symposium in Orlando argued “the long-run value proposition of IT is not to support the human workforce – it is to replace it.” In other words, Gartner stripped off the sugarcoating and told admins exactly what they worried about would come to pass: They were replaceable, and the cloud was the thing to replace them. The company predicted that by 2020, the need for human support in data centers will all but evaporate.
Statistics from earlier this year, however, show a different outlook. According to a July 15th Silicon Valley Business Journal article, approximately 20,000 tech jobs were filled in June 2013, which accounts for almost 10 percent of all new jobs added that month. The solid hiring numbers follow a trend starting in October of 2012 and still gaining momentum – so what’s going on?
Cloud Computing: Not a Great Friend…
In large measure, the categorization of cloud as “foe” by IT pros comes from the deep-seated worry that it can do what they do, only better. If the cloud can virtually eliminate troubleshooting and network issues, what’s the point in employing full-time, in-house staff? Using the current IT service model, workers are seemingly redundant, but that’s just low-hanging fruit. In actuality, the need for capable admins hasn’t vanished, merely changed.
The cloud isn’t actually an enemy to IT pros, but might be better categorized as a pushy friend. Cloud computing providers aren’t interested in working with IT so much as they want to offer the best value for the dollar to C-level executives, IT be damned. But sophisticated cloud solutions which muscle their way into previously human-controlled areas offer a opportunity for IT pros: Management. Employees understand how to use the cloud at a basic level, while executives are convinced the cloud will cut deep into IT costs. Admins fill the gap between powerful technology and effective practice; someone needs to be on hand to make sure what’s offered by a provider really gets delivered.
Cloud Computing: Evolving Bit by Bit
It’s also critical to remember the cloud is still evolving. While solid service agreements are quickly becoming the norm, and companies are getting savvy about who they hire and how much they’re willing to pay, distributed computing is just the beginning of the cloud revolution. Database as a service, (DbaaS), security as a service (SECaaS) and a host of other uses for the cloud are just starting to emerge, and come with unique challenges. Like the desktop revolution before it and whatever tech advancement surely follows, the cloud isn’t free of growing pains and won’t work perfectly just because providers say it’s so.
The role of IT remains as it ever was: To troubleshoot issues that executives and front-line employees can’t. In many respects, cloud computing makes this job easier but this has the added effect of stirring the pot, whispering in the ears of admins that if their work becomes too common, too easy they’ll be suddenly replaced. In a market just starting to see strong cloud performance, however, IT admins are faced with the difficulty of evolution, not extinction.
The bottom line for IT
Make no mistake: The cloud is coming. What’s more, it’s bullying across silos and server stacks, ignoring conventional rules by talking business as well as IT, and democratically granting access to any authorized users. In short, a complete reversal of standard IT practice.
This leads to a standoff mentality, an “IT versus them” battle which only ends with lost jobs and cloud deployment ill-suited to company needs. Though it may be loud, boorish, and entirely lacking in technical niceties, IT professionals are better served accepting the cloud for what it is, extending the virtual olive branch, and trying to make friends. It’s no longer possible to avoid distributed computing at any business level, and yet tech job hiring continues to show steady growth. There’s a place for IT beside the cloud, rather than under it – but carving out a niche requires foresight and adaptability.
Doug Bonderud is a freelance writer, cloud proponent, business technology analyst and a contributor on the Dataprise Cloud Services website.