Appliances, the Cloud and Converged Infrastructures Mean IT Professionals Need to Adapt or Die

A remarkable phenomenon is going in data centers of midsize organizations across the US. Many are already well on their way to outsourcing more of their applications with cloud providers with many more aggressively implementing appliances and converged infrastructure solutions. As they do so, they are discovering that their need for having skilled, in-house IT professionals is diminishing or even completely gone. This means it is a time for IT professionals to adapt or die.
Probably one of the worst kept secrets in the IT industry is the rapid adoption of the public cloud, appliance-based and converged infrastructure solutions by organizations of all sizes. On the public cloud, analyst estimates vary as to how fast companies will acquire cloud services but all of them are quite rosy ranging from 23.5% to 26.4% compound annual growth rates (CAGR).
The forecast growth rates for appliances and converged infrastructure solutions are equally as impressive. Backup appliances are the most modest of the three. IDC reports that for the Q3 2013, worldwide purpose-built backup appliance (PBBA) revenues were up 6.7% to $713.5 million. However converged infrastructure solutions are on fire as they posted a whopping 68.5% year-over-year increase in factory value growth with $1.4 billion in sales for Q3 2013.
That’s great news for vendors in this space and these technologies are certainly being welcomed by the organizations using them. Rather than waiting days, weeks or months to spin up computing resources, configure backup software or install servers, networking and storage, applications ranging from internal facing to mission-critical are essentially becoming plug-n-play operations. Applications may be hosted by public cloud service providers or come pre-packaged and ready to run on backup appliances or converged infrastructure solutions.
Having solved these long-standing problems, organizations face a perplexing question, “What do they do with all of the IT professionals that they have on staff that were previously responsible for installing and maintaining their computer solutions?
The truth: Most will likely lay them off. Here’s why.
Many organizations consciously (but mostly unconsciously) quantify the value that their IT professionals offer is as follows. IT professionals, typically after much trial and error, figure out how to make separately acquired hardware and software pieces work together and run well. Having now put all of these pieces together, they are the only ones who can then maintain them.
This has been their value proposition, so to speak. This knowledge and expertise makes them almost indispensable to an organization since the company’s core business is dependent upon these systems remaining up and running and having “THE” person who put the solution together available to support it.
Converged infrastructures, backup appliances and cloud infrastructure blow up this existing value proposition of IT professionals.  These new solutions are typically turnkey leaving little to nothing for IT professionals to implement or install except maybe pointing end-users to the application hosted by the cloud provider or plugging in the appliance or converged infrastructure solution.
Aggravating the situation, once these solutions are installed and operational, the IT professional is no longer the expert on how they are configured – the providing vendor is.  As such, the vendor will likely provide the majority if not all of the support. Further, whatever support is needed (firmware updates, hardware replacements, etc.) should be very simplistic in nature and only require minimal technical skill to perform.
This is why IT professionals better be prepared to adapt or die (i.e. – get the pink slip.) Adapting to this new world takes one of three forms.

  • Become a technologist. If you want to remain with the company you are with, you need to switch from being a technician to being a technologist. In this new role, one monitors new technologies coming down the pike, identifies the problems they will solve in the business, builds the business case for bringing them in-house and then drives their internal acceptance and adoption. This requires an individual possess an underlying understanding of the technology but also have the soft skills to write business cases, build internal consensus and explain the value proposition. This is the path I personally took years ago and it has served me well.
  • Go to work for or become a cloud provider. Cloud providers are often run by really smart guys who understand how to build a cloud infrastructure. They know what individual hardware and software components they need to acquire, can assemble them and then support them. These organizations have no plans to buy appliances or converged infrastructure solutions as they can build their own for a fraction of the price of these solutions.  If you like the “build and support” cloud model and have these technical skills, cloud providers are likely interested in putting you to work or you should look
  • Make house calls. As organizations lay IT professionals, they will likely find they either cut too deep or still like to have a reliable person around just in case they need technical help – which they inevitably do. This person is likely either a part timer or a contractor and is perfect for someone who likes to maintain and support existing technologies. In this position, an IT professional will likely have multiple clients and may support ten (10) or more businesses in this role by making themselves available to do house calls as their clients need help.

The cloud, appliances and converged infrastructures are coming down the pike whether or not IT professionals like it. The key for them to adapting and surviving in this new world is to change their focus, find a cloud provider who needs their existing technical skill set or recognize that their current skill set may still be needed but in smaller quantities by multiple companies.

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