When you read all the wonderful marketing hyperbole around the cost savings that cloud can help your CIO make, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were one of those cost savings. With a little thought, however, you’ll see that this technology change isn’t going to make you a pointless cost, but it will make you a valuable driver of efficiency and savings, and you’ll probably find that work becomes more fun .
Most of us get into IT or Technology because we love technology. A big, big part of that for me has always been that it’s constantly changing. Unlike being, say, an accountant we get the rules thrown up in the air every few years. We have to learn a whole lot of new skills in order to make those adaptations and that’s always been the way that technology has worked. We are, however, just coming to the end of one of the longest periods of IT stagnancy we’ve arguably ever seen where a global economic crisis combined with “good enough” technology to deliver a period of stability few of us in technology have had before. A stable period like that leads to many things, one of which is the dulling of our learning skills. Time for a change.
What are the top skills required as we move into the cloud era, how do you gain them and how will your job change?
The number one skill you’ll need in the future is going to be business knowledge, Just like everyone else in your business,you will need to know how it works. Many IT Professionals already do and please don’t take what I’m saying wrongly - it’s not that I believe that IT Pros are out of touch with the business – that obviously depends on your individual circumstances. Broadly speaking, though, experience tells me that not many IT people know their business. I left financial services IT not so long ago (I think it’s 8 months) and I can handon- heart say that most of my colleagues didn’t know an option from a guilt or what shorting is (I’m not sure I do), but perhaps more applicable, lots of IT Pros don’t understand the pressures that marketers or sales people are under and how they can help. The best do understand this, and aligning with the business in this way is the best way to do more with the cloud.
In terms of technical skills, though, here are my top 4.
- Understand the technologies that power cloud. There are some fundamentals that you really need to grasp before you get the cloud in its entirety. Until you do “Do not pass go, do not collect £200”. As luck would have it, those technologies are ones that you are probably already familiar with, the cornerstone being virtualisation. Why do you need to understand that technology? Well, the answer is because everything in the cloud is virtual. Virtual storage, virtual computers, virtual networks – nothing is real, unless you work for a hoster. You don’t need to understand the specific technology, just what it means to divorce software from hardware – which really is that you can’t manage hardware, only software, so, for example, no network card hijinks to make something work.
Second, you need to understand the idea of cost. You need to understand that doing anything in the cloud costs money, just as it does, in a hidden way, in your own data centre. I’ll give you an example. You have data stored in the cloud but it’s not been accessed for six months. You need to pay for that storage. The same on-premises you’ve already shelled out for the hard disk. That understanding of cost will soon make you realise that you need to store some stuff in the cloud and some stuff not. For example, event logs from a web role for today – yes, store them in the cloud. Event logs for last month – no, archive locally or delete all together. Gaining this level of understanding will revolutionise what you do and clear clutter.
- Connection technologies for traditional models to the cloud. Moving to the cloud takes some time. You need to build up confidence in your own mind (and in the mind of the business) that it’s possible, safe and sometimes better to move to the cloud than keep something on premises but also that it might not always be the right thing to do. There’s a much bigger hurdle in moving to the cloud versus putting in something new because there’s already a reliance on that infrastructure (insert good word) doing something, be it generating revenue or handling some business critical function. You need to understand how to link the two together.
So which technology is that for the Microsoft cloud technologies? For Windows Azure you need to know about Active Directory Federation Services and Windows Azure Connect, with a little of Windows Azure Service Bus. If you’re thinking Windows Azure is just for devs then ask yourself this question: “Do the devs understand networking, Identity and all the rest of our infrastructure?” You also need to know PowerShell and System Center to be able to manage the cloud, but we’ll come to that in point 3 in more depth. You’ll find an understanding of SQL Azure DataSync will be seriously helpful if you want to use SQL Azure, too. If you’re making the move to Office 365 you’ll again need to understand ADFS, and you’ll also need to understand DirSync.
- Know what your business needs to measure and monitor it. Knowing what’s important to your business and how the technology marries up to that is critically important. You need to be fully aware of what’s required and what’s important so that you can ensure it happens. You need to make sure that services are available to the business when they need them and not when they aren’t (or at least dialled down). There’s a misconception that the cloud has this automatic elasticity that scales things up and down as it sees fit. It doesn’t really work that way.
OK, it can work that way if the designers and developers built-in intelligence that really delivers that. With Azure they have use of an API to control scale based on the needs of the application. They need to have enabled that functionality and it’s not always the right thing to do. The classic example is pizza demand in the super bowl ad break - more orders = more capacity instantly added. That’s the reality but it doesn’t cover every eventuality. Imagine for a moment said pizza experts also know that the super bowl is happening, if they prepare for those additional instances then they have a better chance of hitting the demand at the right time, especially if the devs did something complicated too that meant that each additional role took 10 minutes to become live. Yes, it’s possible to code around that, but easier to work with an IT Pro to smooth those obvious peaks and use code to work for the unexpected.
Measurement and monitoring tied to business knowledge will allow you to deliver higher levels of value and be more of a hero. The reality is that you don’t need that deep an insight into the business to deliver exceptional value, and you can do this better with cloud because you’re no longer spending time keeping it running. Instead, you’re now helping them generate more money by matching demand curves.
- Understand how to govern the cloud. You’re going to get into serious trouble if you don’t look after customer data and the like. You need to know when employing cloud technology is the right thing to do and when it’s the wrong thing to do. You also need to understand what it takes to trust a cloud provider. Here are some questions that you might like to pose or research:
- Can I get an assurance of where my data is held?
- Can I get an assurance around uptime?
- Can I get an assurance about the practices that the provider uses in their data centre?
- Can I find out about who’s auditing a provider?
- Can I found out what testing and certification a provider has provided and what it supports?
- Can I find out how the provider is trying to move the industry and regulation forward for its customers?
- Can I found out how I exit the contract?
- Do they give me time to read the contract?
- Wait - there was a contract?!
- Have we built applications that adhere to our own practices?
- Have we deployed the application in a compliant way?
- What's the update process, where are the patches, what’s the security like?
You need to have an understanding of all this stuff to protect your customers and your company, and I can assure you that you can find all the above information for all Microsoft products. You’ll find most of it on the web or by asking your Microsoft team – I’m not going to point you to it because you won’t believe it if a company man tells you. OK, that’s not entirely fair - take a look at my blog and you’ll find the start of the breadcrumb trail.
So now you’re reading that list and thinking that’s not technical. You’re right, it’s a ruse.
Actually it’s all technical because all technical knowledge is knowledge about how things work. Most of this knowledge requires a technical expert to relate it clearly back to the business. It leverages your understanding of how things work and builds your intuition and intelligence to trust or distrust. Go forth and change the world of IT.
This article was originally posted on the Cloud Power Blog at ITpro.co.uk