I’ve written before that in today’s digital economy, I consider data centers to be “21st Century Bit Factories”. They are this century’s engine that drives knowledge, commerce, communications, education and entertainment. And as these modern factories become critical elements in our global economy, it’s important to look back at the evolution of these environments to see how companies can leverage public and private data centers (those “cloud” things) to drive greater business opportunity and competitive advantage.
[NOTE: I'd recommending watching the two videos from Simon Wardley before continuing, as it's important to understand that what we're seeing in the evolution of computing is not unique to the computing industry. It happens for most products and markets over time.]
I believe there to be four critical elements to consider in looking at the parallels between 20th and 21st century factories:
- Original Factory Designs – Flexible Containers and Assembly Lines
- Supply Chains – Getting In and Out of the Factory
- Evolving Factory Operations – Automation and Quality Improvement
- Evolving People-Centric Process – Skills and Feedback Loops
Just as manufacturing companies leveraged Demming’s teachings to drive process efficiency for cost and quality of their physical products, so are the modern data center operators to reduce cost and improve response times for their services. PUE is replacing JIT as the input metric. DevOps is replacing Lean as the organizing structure. Fail-Fast is replacing Six Sigma as the quality measurement.
For many decades, there was a level of respect that was afforded to people that had put in 1000s of hours of work (or training) to achieve a level of expertise in a given field. Even if you weren’t an outlier, you possessed unique knowledge that enabled business success. But in today’s world, whether the expert is a doctor, a lawyer, a chef, or a homebuilder, that level of respect is fading because of all the online resources available to everyone. More often than not, people now utilize the web to educate themselves prior to engaging with any of those resources.
While this may be frustrating to many professions, it is creating a significant challenge to IT professionals. Unlike doctors who might have to hear about a patient’s research into an ache or pain, many IT professionals are having to manage expectations from end-users that have setup networks, storage, or applications for themselves. They don’t want your opinion, they just want you to enable their needs. They don’t want you to “enhance” productivity using traditional IT models, they want you to get out of the way so they can be productive in a way that best suits their business needs.
Not only are they familiar with SaaS applications (eg. WebEx, Salesforce, Concur) used for day-to-day business operations, but many of them use “consumer” SaaS applications (eg. Dropbox, Google Apps, Facebook) in the other aspects of their life. In addition to those cloud computing applications, it’s highly likely that many of them are the unofficial “IT Administrator” of their home network of media devices, home routers and storage devices. They have some understanding of how the technology works, and they have experience with online support forums. In their minds, traditional IT is the equivalent of a broadband ISP, providing network access and bandwidth…and not much else. Continued »
The last few years have been filled with discussions about how IT organizations will need to change, adapt or acquire new technology skills as they look to deploy cloud computing services for their companies. Technologies like virtualization, converged infrastructure and new automation tools have been blurring the lines between existing technology groups, forcing IT organizations to reevaluate how to best evolve architectures and operations.
1 – Cloud Concierge – I’ve written about this before, but I believe that it’s going to be become an even more critical role as new parts of the business look to leverage technology in new ways. This could be mobile applications; needs for on-demand resources for short-term projects; or integrations between multiple SaaS services. It’s one thing to say that IT and the Business groups need to communicate better, but it’s much more difficult to expect the Business groups to understand the technical complexities. Being able to provide a centralized service, similar to a hotel concierge, that can help direct groups to the best resources will become more and more important as the boundaries around IT and technology resources expand and dissolve.
2 – Cloud Licensing Translator (Category: Open-Source) – Open Source tools, cloud platforms and developer platforms continue to rapidly accelerate the pace at which new services can be delivered to the business, either directly (in-house IT) or indirectly (through cloud service providers). Automation tools like Chef and Puppet; cloud platforms such CloudStack and OpenStack; development frameworks such as Spring, Ruby on Rails; and Big Data environments using Hadoop, Pig, and Hive. Maybe you think you understand the difference between the community (free) version and the supported (paid) version, but do you understand how the various open source license options could effect your decisions? Do you understand the differences between GPL and Apache license structures? Having knowledge of this may prevent your business from getting caught in a costly or non-interoperable situation in the future.
3 – Cloud Markets Trader or Cloud Cost Management – Where it’s a large or small portion of the technology resources the business consumes, there is a good chance that some percentage will reside in public cloud services (eg. Amazon AWS, Salesforce.com, Microsoft Azure, Rackspace Cloud). Understanding how to these services are priced, both now and for future usage, will become a critical aspect of making sure projects stay on budget. Today this is complicated as there is not a consistent unit of measure to assign pricing (eg. barrel of oil; ounce of gold). Being able to work between the CFO, CIO and Business with clear, transparent pricing is a skill that requires a mix of technical and financial skills.
4 – Cloud Services Marketing – Every great technology owes part of its success to the persuasive evangelist that helped the marketplace understand its value and desire its use. Being able to translate that evangelism to internal projects and groups is as much as salesmanship and marketing as it is about ROI or technical value. Business groups and end-users have dozens of choices in today’s world, so helping them see the value in a new cloud service is as important internally as it is externally in a competitive marketplace.
5 – Cloud Data Analyst – Sometimes this is called “Data Scientist”, but it’s probably more of a shared function between the Data Science and Business Analyst groups. Whether or not business leaders want to admit it, almost every business today is a data-centric business. Being able to bring together the evolving technologies, internal and external data sources, and the ability to connect it back to business models and customer impact is the difference between market leaders and market laggards.
How quickly these roles will emerge, or evolve, will be a factor of how quickly IT organizations are able to change to satisfy business needs. But for IT professionals looking for the next skills and opportunities to explore for career advancement, I’d suggest this list contains a set of future rock stars to help drive your business to new levels of success.
I’ve been fortunate to write a few guest posts (here, here), but the editors at IT KnowledgeExchange are now letting me loose with my own blog. So Hello World! This blog will be covering cloud technology, data center architecture and the shifting role of IT. It may also include links to my cloud computing podcast, for those of you that prefer listening to content instead of always reading. My goal is to get these out every Monday morning, to bring some unicorns and rainbows to the beginning of your week.
I’m looking forward to some great conversations with this active community of IT experts. Comments, discussions, disagreements and suggestions are always welcomed and encouraged.