Nine paths to a cloud career

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Nine paths to a cloud career

iTnews asks the cloud gurus for career advice.

Over the past week, iTnews has explored the growth of public cloud computing services in Australia and asked what it means for IT skills.

What skills will our rackers, stackers and sysadmins require as more software and services are delivered straight to corporate end users over the cloud?

Today we put the following question to a panel of readers that are already enjoying successful careers in the cloud computing space.

Listed below are the top nine skills required to navigate the cloud world:

9. Virtualisation

The evolution of cloud computing from its roots in virtualisation will make it a natural transition for experts in hypervisors.

Many of the staff now working as solutions architects for public cloud computing companies first made a name for themselves in server virtualisation.

8. Communications

Cloud initiatives often extend across myriad business units of an organisation. No matter how technology is delivered, the success of any new application hinges on strong communications skills to successfully project-manage the transition.

7. Networking

Cloud architectures are comms-heavy and latency-sensitive; networking experts will find their skills in high demand when building high-capacity clouds supporting many simultaneous users.

Trent Hornibrook, infrastructure operations lead at one of Australia’s earliest adopters of public cloud services, REA Group, believes the emerging ‘hybrid cloud’ requires strong networking skills.

REA maintains some of its own systems inside a co-lo data centre, attached to a direct fibre connection to Amazon Web Services’ cloud. Setting up and maintaining that hybrid cloud wasn’t trivial, he said.

“For hybrid clouds, networking roles are critical to your success,” he said. “You need a good network engineer to connect your data centre to a cloud provider’s VPN endpoint and set up the appropriate routes. That’s the secret sauce to augmenting your data centre with another cloud.”

Arguably, however, networking will only remain a strong skill for the adoption of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), and less so for software-as-a-service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS).

6. DevOps and the new support paradigm

Strong technical skills will still be required for support roles, even if most helpdesk tickets are now likely to flow through to a cloud provider rather than an in-house team.

Those organisations that continue to develop bespoke applications should embrace the DevOps model, according to Alan Perkins, CTO at Rackspace.

"The merging of Development and Operations will see more software skills required by infrastructure people, and developers will learn how to programmatically manage infrastructure," he said.

5. Infrastructure-aware software development

Equally, software developers will need to program applications to be aware of the distributed architecture on which they now reside. They will need to be as aware of infrastructure issues - latency, redundancy, security - as they are of the latest dev tools and platforms.

Cloud computing consultant Craig Deveson said the software developer of the future will have to understand “scalable applications” – both from a development and an infrastructure perspective.

“IT will require an ability to design distributed apps that can scale under load and be redundant. This is different thinking to how applications were deployed in the past.”

4. Integration


A key skill as organisations deploy applications in the cloud will be the ability to use APIs to bridge or integrate data between disparate systems.

One of the first challenges will be authentication, federation and single sign-on, but in time cloud customers will need to also work out automated ways of exposing data hosted in one hosted system in another.

This will require, strangely enough, some of the same solution architecture skills valued by enterprise customers in the data centre today.

3. Vendor management

Cloud contracts require careful negotiation and constant monitoring; and staff with existing skills in negotiating with vendors may still have a place in the cloud world.

That said, for many commodity cloud services, only the largest of customers can negotiate beyond the standard terms and conditions on offer from cloud services.

"Organisations going to the cloud are going to spend more time on the contract architecture than the IT architecture," argues former CIO Scott Stewart, now an analyst at ITNewcom.

2. Automation

"The top three skills for a cloud work is automation, automation and automation, " says Ajay Bhatia, CIO of

IT staff will need to get a handle on auto-scaling - the ability to spin up and pull down infrastructure resources on-demand.

"Staff will need to know what is required for the application to autoscale smoothly," says Lorenzo Modesto, chief operating officer at Bulletproof.

Bhatia argues that the more automation, the fewer errors will plague systems. The automation of server configurations, for example, can help eliminate the errors that might result from manual steps.

1. Adaptability

Perhaps the most important skill for the cloud era is an open mind.

Giri Fox, director at RightScale, is concerned that many senior IT folk have not actively kept up to date on cloud technologies.

In the cloud era, things move excruciatingly fast.

“There has to be a willingness to learn the distinctions between various cloud technologies,” he said. “IT professionals cannot rest on their existing knowledge and must actively learn about cloud in all its dimensions.

“The most important skill is a willingness and ability to learn.”

"Cloud adoption will absolutely be driven by companies' ability to adapt," agrees Modesto. "Disruption and change creates opportunities and a clear distinction between the new haves and have nots."

IT staff shouldn't be scared of generating ideas - and developing scripts - that essentially put themselves out of a job, Bhatia said.

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