Cloud adoption is fueling a skills shortage and changing IT roles in the enterprise.
As companies move more applications and infrastructure to the cloud, they're finding themselves in a rather awkward situation of managing cloud services alongside on-premises IT systems. This hybrid IT environment presents numerous challenges, with some of the biggest on the personnel side.
A recent report by SolarWinds highlights the impact cloud adoption is having on companies and IT roles. The survey of 868 IT practitioners and managers worldwide found that 95% have migrated critical applications and infrastructure to the cloud over the past year. Specifically, they've migrated applications (74%), storage (50%), and databases (35%).
While a majority of those polled said they've reaped the expected cloud benefits like cost reduction and increased flexibility, many report dealing with new issues such as increased complexity, a lack of visibility, and the need for different skills.
"The challenge of hybrid IT from the network perspective is that it's an enormous increase in complexity, not just in scope, but in the variety of resources that have to be managed," SolarWinds Head Geek Patrick Hubbard told me in an interview. "With that comes a need for expertise in each of those areas."
While IT has been accustomed to provisioning technology and making decisions based on available skills, cloud and SaaS services are often prescribed by lines of business, he said. "We then have to adapt to those technologies," said Hubbard, who will discuss hybrid IT challenges at Interop ITX. "That adds another layer of complexity because we're not just adding adjunct technology that aligns with the skillsets we have. Those skills may not be present among anyone on our team."
Paul Nicholson, director of product marketing at A10 Networks, said the cloud skills shortage isn't surprising. "The rapid adoption of new technologies creates a vacuum of people with the hands-on skills and knowledge of how to not just run the systems, but effectively use all the power the new systems offer," he said in an email.
According to the SolarWinds survey, 62% of IT pros said cloud adoption has required them to acquire new skills. Fifty-seven percent of organizations said they've hired or reassigned IT personnel, or plan to, in order to manage cloud resources. An IT staff skills gap was cited by 63% of IT pros as one of the five biggest hybrid IT challenges; 46% cited increased workload and responsibilities.
A surprising finding was that 46% percent of those surveyed don't view IT pros entering the workforce now as having the needed skills, Hubbard said. "Anytime you're hiring someone fresh, you're able to hire based on a specific set of skills the team needs, and they're finding that even candidates don't have them," he said. "The rate of change is so high that you might as well develop those skills internally because you're not going to do better hiring off the streets."
Not only does managing roles and policies in the cloud require vastly different skills from on-premises infrastructure management, but what's required for Amazon Web Services differs from what's needed for Microsoft Azure, Hubbard said. "Each has its own way of operating, and that complexity isn't static," he said, noting that the rate of change among cloud providers like AWS is much higher than traditional networking products.
Nicholson noted that the skills shortage goes beyond knowledge of public cloud platforms. "It’s both the knowledge of cloud services and all the associated new technologies. These can include containers, and other micro service technologies, and DevOps and SecOps skills," he said. "The latter need scripting chops, and this represents a challenging learning curve for a traditional administrator."
While hybrid IT can be frustrating, organizations that are successful focus on education, Hubbard said. "They encourage their existing teams to take risks and trust that there's an opportunity to do some really cool work again."
Hubbard said an IT pro who understands how networks work and has years of experience in diagnosing problems has better perspective than someone who is cloud-first and may not consider the underlying infrastructure.
"It's way more valuable to take someone who has years of experience with physical networks and have them cross that gap," he said.
For IT pros, developing new skills for cloud and associated technologies can be lucrative, "just as we've seen with emerging technologies in the past," Nicholson said.