Tech Job Watch Feb 03 2011

Cloud Computing Will Change IT, Is Your Career Ready?

By john shinal

Related: Companies Making It Rain in the Clouds

Cloud computing has arrived. Is your IT career ready?

A survey published in January by tech research firm Gartner Inc. of 2,000 CIOs showed that cloud computing is their top spending priority for 2011, even while their overall spending plans are flat with last year.

A 2010 report from Forrester Research predicts that spending on cloud computing and related services will surge to $258 billion in 2020 from $28 billion last year. With that nine-fold rise, investments in technologies for remotely managing corporate data, applications and related computing services will account for 45% of all IT spending.

The move toward cloud computing will create a need for more workers in IT job categories. Those opportunities will exist at corporations using hosted services -- and at the cloud service providers themselves.

"You're going to see a lot of new jobs generated by the move to the cloud," said John Reed, executive director of IT research for the staffing firm Robert Half International.

Although the specific job requirements will vary by position, the new jobs created by the rise of cloud computing will all share one thing in common: a need for a greater knowledge of the business side of IT.

"Just being up on the technology often won't be enough for many of these new roles," Reed said. "There will be an expectation for all IT people to understand the business users" of corporate networks and applications.

In recognition of the trend, many college computer science departments are now requiring their students to have a minor in a business-related field. Older workers would also do well to broaden their skills.

"An IT veteran who also has an MBA is going to be very attractive," said James Staten, the Forrester analyst who wrote the report on increased cloud spending said.

To be sure, many low-level tasks for managing and troubleshooting corporate computer networks are going to get automated by software, Staten said.

"There'll be fewer jobs to do what gets replaced by technology. You won't need as many people to run things," Staten said.

That could put pressure on network operations managers or systems administrator jobs, especially those who've only worked in smaller computing networks.

While it's still early in the game, Staten predicted that among the biggest players in cloud computing three years from now will be, Microsoft, and Google.

In addition, large telecom service providers such at AT&T and Verizon Communications, are also developing plans to host client data and applications. Meanwhile, big hardware makers like Dell and Hewlett-Packard are busy developing cloud-friendly products and developing related consulting service offerings.

"It's a broad range of companies" that will be looking to hire IT pros with the ability to design and use software applications, databases and computer networks in cloud environments, said Reed, of Robert Half.

Here's a look at how the move to the cloud will impact existing IT jobs:

Business Analysts

This IT occupation may be the one that gets the biggest boost from the move to the cloud. As more of the low-level work gets outsourced to cloud companies, corporate decision-makers are going to look to IT to be more pro-active about meeting business needs.

Business analysts have been expected to understand the business users well enough to propose new applications or systems, or modify existing ones, to meet their needs.

But as IT grows in importance, they will be expected to be more pro-active about providing a vision for IT, rather than waiting for the business side "to come to them and say, 'we need this,'" Staten said.

"Analysts will need to have a thorough understanding of emerging technologies that they can suggest to business users," Staten said.

Data modeler/data analysts

Knowing how to access and analyze corporate data and turn it into information or applications that business decision makers can use is going to become increasingly important as the amount of data grows, Staten said.

This is another occupation that will become more pro-active. Rather than compiling data in response to business-side requests, data modelers will be expected to seek out untapped, predictive data on customers and bring it to the product and sales departments to create new products and features.

Data modelers are among the 10 occupations expected to show the strongest salary gains in 2011, according to a Robert Half salary survey published late last year.

Cloud Network Architects/Administrators

Cloud networks being hosted for multiple business customers from a variety of industries are going to be massive, presenting some problems that don't exist on private corporate networks.

"You're going to need people who can build and operate these things [on a large] scale," Staten said. Administrators who know how create and tune computing policies that keep the networks running smoothly and efficiently will be in demand.

Software Engineers

Cloud computing providers don't just store files for business clients, they also host and run their applications.

Cloud software development is still in its infancy, and the big cloud providers and their customers will need engineers who can oversee all aspects of application development -- from design and programming to testing and implementation.

While those tasks used to be performed by different individuals, more companies are now looking for software pros who can do them all.

"They want people who can wear a lot of hats," said Reed, of Robert Half.

Systems Designers/Analysts

The large size of cloud networks, and the resources needed to run them, will place an emphasis on optimizing their performance. Large providers such as Amazon analyze their networks using a "performance-per-watt" metric that is critical to their overall costs, Staten said.

As energy costs continue to rise during the decade, cloud providers looking to deliver the same level of service for less cost than their rivals are going to try and squeeze every efficiency they can out of their networks.

"If you're doing 20 million [computing] transactions [per day] and can get a one-cent improvement for each one, that's huge," he said.

Security Experts

The biggest concern most CIOs have about moving their systems into a cloud environment is security. As cloud service providers look to allay those concerns, they're going to look to cybersecurity pros for help.

"We're already seeing an increase in demand among clients for people with a strong background in security," Reed said.

Operations managers/systems administrators

More and more of the work performed by these occupations is going to get automated into software during the next few years, said Staten, of Forrester.

"A lot of the guys who run networks now don't know a lot about the applications running on top of them," Staten said. "That's not going to cut it in a few years."

Write to John Shinal

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