Data Center Career: Automate or Be Automated

With microservices driving data center automation, IT professionals need to prepare by adding new skills such as DevOps.

Steve Shah

March 29, 2018

4 Min Read
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The relationship between automation and employment is as old as industrialization. As manual tasks are automated through technology, some workers move higher up the skill chain to operate and maintain the machines that took their jobs while others are displaced entirely. The pattern may appear in different forms over the generations, but the lesson is always the same: You either get on the side of automation or you’re eliminated by it.

This is a tale with particular resonance for today’s IT professionals as automation sweeps our own industry. I’ve written in the past about the coming transformation. Now it’s here. What has changed, and what does it mean for our profession and our jobs?

Where are our jobs going?

First, let’s look at what’s driving the current wave of data center automation. A new generation of application development is forcing changes to the infrastructure—in particular, the rise of microservices. Central to the value of these independently deployable, task-specific modular services is the ability to dynamically tune the capacity of each individual service based on the incoming load. This makes it possible to ensure the best performance with optimal efficiency, but this self-scaling function is only feasible with a high level of automation and orchestration. In that respect, the rise of microservices is forcing change in their supporting infrastructure.

Initially, the concern had been that automation would reshape the entire stack, leading to the disappearance of much of the tactical work that had defined data center roles. In reality, the change has been more top-down, affecting the higher levels of the stack first. Instead of seeing the network itself undergo rapid automation, the fastest transformation has occurred in the virtualization layer. The embrace of microservices has driven demand for hypervisor tools such as Kubernetes, Pivotal, and Docker Swarm to orchestrate them more easily. This shift makes it possible to achieve cloud-like speed and efficiency without having to abandon existing capital investments.

So, what does this mean for our jobs? First, we’re seeing the emergence of scripting as the new hot skill. A DevOps skill set makes a night-and-day difference in your career options.

Step two of the transformation will be the arrival of a lot of microservices-based packaged software, driving an exponential expansion of the role of microservices in your infrastructure. You’ll see these changes faster than you ever imagined, so as a sysadmin, you need to prepare right now to avoid being swept away.



Step three will center on the network. At one point it had seemed likely that we’d see a high degree of network automation, but that hasn’t happened as quickly as expected; it turns out that automating the network is more complicated than people had anticipated. The approach itself isn’t wrong, but if you have a large, complex network, making it more dynamic won’t happen overnight. It’s a slow, methodical process.

The rise of microservices is now becoming a prime driver of cloud adoption. It’s much faster and simpler to spin up Azure or AWS for these apps, and to use automated software tools to move them to public cloud environments. If you’re a network admin who’s been managing Cisco switches and you’re seeing an increase in microservices, there’s a good chance you won’t be expanding or even automating your own network anymore; that additional capacity will come in the cloud.

What do we do now?

Automate or be automated -- it’s as true today as it was 200 years ago. Data center professionals need to be proactive in developing the relevant skills for a highly automated environment, beginning with scripting and DevOps.

If you’re finding all this disruption and dislocation unsettling, take comfort that you’re not alone. We’re already seeing automation eat up traditional roles in areas well beyond IT. In India, business process outsourcing (BPO) services are seeing their first layoffs as customers embrace automation as a simpler alternative to offshoring. Companies like Automation Anywhere are making automation easier than ever to adopt. Thompson Reuters is even using bots to write some news articles. Throughout the economy, workers of all description need to move to higher value roles to secure their continued relevance.

But look at it in a positive light. If you’ve been stuck monitoring servers and you’re looking for a breakout opportunity, this is it. If you can make that move early and get on top of the transformation, the opportunities can be vast; there’s an unbelievable demand for DevOps engineers these days. It can profoundly change the direction of your career for the better. It’s always better to automate than to be automated.

About the Author(s)

Steve Shah

Vice President, Product Management, Networking, CitrixSteve Shah is Vice President of Product Management, Networking, at Citrix, where he drives product direction and go-to-market strategy. Before returning to Citrix, he was Principal of RisingEdge Consulting, a boutique consulting firm that specialized in strategic marketing for datacenter infrastructure products and cloud computing. Some of his customers included Citrix, Coradiant, Silver Peak, and Amadeus Capital. Shah was Vice President of Product Strategy and co-founder of Asyncast, which built a NLP engine for use in new media and telephony applications. He uses his experience of being the customer, engineer, and marketeer to identify new market opportunities and drive technology in new directions. He gained his expertise through various product management, engineering, and system administrator roles at Citrix, NetScaler, Array Networks, and Alteon Web Systems.

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