Cloud CIO: Yes, Your Job Is At Risk

CIOs and senior IT managers are not immune from the employment risks that cloud computing poses to lower-level infrastructure and operations workers. Failing to rethink the delivery of IT services--and the new organizational structures that will be needed to deliver them--poses a threat to their job security.

By Bernard Golden
Mon, June 06, 2011

CIO — Left unsaid—typically, anyway—in most discussions about cloud computing is the implicit threat that it will be the cause of job losses. The clamorous suspicion that many IT groups display toward public cloud services seems to have a large emotional component to it, and highly-charged negative emotions typically reflect visceral fear. It's difficult to conclude that some (if not much) of the resistance from internal IT groups to the use of public cloud resources boils down to simple worry about unemployment.

To quote novelist and firebrand Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it." Certainly, we've seen many internal IT groups refuse to acknowledge any potential benefits or use cases for public cloud computing, while citing all the potential drawbacks at length.

Take a survey like this one, in which only seven percent of all IT respondents said they would embrace public cloud computing, while 47 percent said they'd prefer a private cloud. (The rest, presumably, are busy finding a rock to hide under.) It's awfully tempting to interpret the results as reflecting a self-protective desire to avoid outsourcing because that's how many IT personnel see public cloud providers—as an outsourcer that will impact IT employment. After all, that was the result of the last outsourcing boom.

In the last go-round, outsourcers offered to take over data center operations for companies and reduce their costs. Sometimes employees transferred to the outsourcing company, but many times employees were given a pink slip when the new firm took over.

With that experience in mind, it's natural that IT personnel would resist using public cloud computing. Asking an infrastructure and operations (I&O) person what he or she thinks of public cloud computing is like asking a turkey what it thinks of Thanksgiving.

Here's the thing, though. If you're an I&O operations person, cloud computing is a threat to your job, whether it's public or private. Cloud computing represents virtualization supercharged by automation, and automation always threatens jobs—especially those of lower-skilled employees. Simply put, cloud computing will displace the jobs of those who perform routine operations tasks.

This fact was described in a recent InfoWorld article by Paul Krill. The most telling quote came from Forrester analyst Ted Schadler, who said "cloud computing poses a direct threat to 'blue collar' IT, such as admins and others who simply maintain IT infrastructure."

I've long sought a phrase to capture the challenge many IT personnel will face with the rise of cloud computing, and Ted's quote captures it perfectly. If you are an admin or operations employee whose knowledge is basic installation, configuration and administration of software components, cloud computing is likely to make you redundant. It's the automation element of cloud computing, not virtualization, that is the cause of this redundancy.

In fact, one might say that one of the reasons vanilla virtualization caught on so quickly was because it improved capital utilization while not disrupting labor much at all. People could use the same skills they always used, just on virtual rather than physical machines. And even though virtualization—even before cloud computing—could reduce labor, many organizations did not embrace those capabilities. For example, a year ago I talked with an operations person from a very well-known technology vendor's IT department. He told me the MBO for the year was to begin using virtual machine templates. Currently, they were just getting a virtual machine and installing and configuring all software by hand, just like they used to do with physical servers.

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