If you're an IT pro looking to either polish your existing cloud skills or add new expertise to your resume, the time is now as demand for cloud skills continues to outpace the supply of available workers.
A joint study released last November from Microsoft and IDC revealed that there were 1.7 million cloud-related jobs that went unfilled in 2012, and that over the next few years, millions more will remain open.
The study, Climate Change: Cloud's Impact on IT Organizations and Staffing, echoes findings from CompTIA's 4th Annual Cloud Computing Trends Report, which found that hiring managers experience the most difficulty in finding employees with higher-level cloud skills such as building migration plans or assessing the risk of a cloud transition.
These findings are indicative of cloud computing's maturation as a technology, says CompTIA's Director of Industry Analysis Carolyn April. "We're seeing cloud technology move beyond the realm of curiosity, beyond early experimentation, and into a second- or third-stage technology evolution," she says.
"Up until this year, we'd seen a gradual increase in adoption and acceptance, but this year we saw a huge spike in adoption, and that's a game-changer for business," April says. As cloud computing becomes even more mainstream, the demand for the proper skills will continue to rise with it as companies seek to gain the benefits of this business model, she says.
What Cloud Skills Businesses Need
"At this point in the cloud technology evolution, firms have a diverse set of options to build out their architecture that includes both cloud tech and on-site solutions," says Seth Robinson, CompTIA's Director of Technology Analysis.
"The move to the cloud has gone well, and it is becoming a common part of building out or revamping architecture. We're seeing not just companies move to the cloud for the first time, but more and more secondary moves -- migrating more applications, moving from one public cloud provider to another, from a public cloud to a private and vice versa," Robinson says.
Businesses, therefore, are focusing less on how to use cloud technology than on migration and deeper integration with existing enterprise systems, Robinson says, and are looking for talent with the skills to do so.
"Companies are looking for folks with the knowledge of how to integrate cloud solutions with existing, on-site systems," Robinson says. "Migration, integration, developer knowledge of different cloud providers' application programming interfaces (APIs), are all skills that are in high demand."
Howard Lee, architect of the talent sourcing solution Open Web, says that analyzing recruiter searches shows some clear trends, among them a demand for Amazon Web Services skills, open source, and DevOps engineers.
"There's definitely a vendor preference -- experience working with Amazon Web Services is sought in nearly half of all searches," Lee says. "Open source, too, is hot; from Linux to configuration management systems like Chef and Puppet to programming languages like Python, Perl and Ruby. These fall into the category of 'cloud-adjacent' technologies," he says. Finally, demand for Development Operations engineers continues to grow.
Demand for these positions and skills signals a major shift in the entire cloud computing landscape, CompTIA's Robinson says. The need for cloud migration assessments, API knowledge and integration skills point to a focus on how cloud computing affects not just single departments or technology projects, but the entire business, he says.
"The overarching emphasis is on the connection between the technology and business. The tech team isn't just responsible for choosing tech (cloud or otherwise) for one particular department or project, but for an entire line-of-business. IT professionals have to be able to think 'big picture,' strategically, and to see how the cloud impacts many aspects of the company," Robinson says.
"It's a paradigm shift like those that happened with mobile technology, or even the PC revolution," he says. "Early adopters who've been using cloud technology for five or six years now, their top challenge used to be integration. But now their top challenge is changing company policy to adapt to the new paradigm. This isn't so much a technology decision but a business model discussion," Robinson says.
How to Build Cloud Skills
"The great part is that the barriers to entry for learning cloud skills is very low," Open Web's Lee says. "If you're just starting out, you can sign up with AWS for about $30 a month and just jump in and get your hands dirty. Mess around with their free elements, start experimenting with their offerings [like security, DNS services, load balancing and storage]," he says.
There are a number of available professional certifications, too, both vendor-specific and vendor neutral. CompTIA offers a vendor-neutral Cloud Essentials certification program that, when completed, will show that you understand cloud computing from both a business and technical perspective, and that you have the skills to help an organization move to and/or govern cloud deployments.
[Slideshow: 26 Cloud-Specific IT Certifications]
There are vendor-sponsored certification programs from IBM and Microsoft, as well as vendor-neutral, topic-specific programs from organizations like the Cloud Security Alliance, which offers a Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK) designation for graduates.
Cloud provider Rackspace also offers a vendor-neutral curriculum called CloudU and Open source services provider Red Hat announced a Cloud certification program earlier this month at VMworld and Dell is offering a government-focused cloud program.
Even as the cloud industry matures, CompTIA's Robinson says, the technology is nowhere near the end of its lifecycle. There always will be a need for experts to help companies move to the cloud for the first time as well as perform migration assessments and integration, he says.
The need for traditional, on-site solutions experts will continue to be strong. However, as the cloud becomes more mainstream, IT professionals with both cloud and traditional data center skills will be in even greater demand, and will certainly have an advantage.
Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for CIO.com. Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at email@example.com Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.