How to Retool Your IT Skills for the Cloud

Cloud computing is transforming IT operations and management, but the transition for IT professionals doesn't have to be difficult or daunting. Here, cloud computing experts explain how IT professionals can adapt their skillsets for the cloud and the impact cloud computing will have on five different IT jobs.

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Thu, January 12, 2012

CIO — Keith Fafel entered the world of cloud computing during the summer of 2010, while he was working as a product manager with Rackspace, the San Antonio, Texas-based provider of hosted IT infrastructure services.

At the time, Fafel was working in Rackspace's monitoring services line of business, which provides information on the performance of the hardware and software that Rackspace runs for its customers. Rackspace had begun developing cloud-based hosting services, and it was trying to create monitoring solutions for customers provisioning those cloud-based services so that they could be assured their servers and load balancers were working properly. Fafel says he "inserted" himself in the conversation Rackspace was having on how it would develop monitoring software for the cloud.

"The excitement about the cloud was growing, and I wanted to be in the exciting growth areas," he says.

Fafel, 39, who is now Rackspace's director of product for monitoring services, says the move to develop cloud-based monitoring services was a natural career progression for him. For many IT professionals, however, the move to developing applications and managing infrastructure based in the cloud feels anything but natural. Indeed, it seems downright intimidating, especially in light of all the talk about the possibility of cloud computing eliminating IT jobs.

Fafel and others working in the burgeoning field of cloud computing say the transition from a traditional IT environment to a cloud computing environment doesn't have to be difficult or daunting. They acknowledge it's a dramatic paradigm shift for IT, and they admit that the move will be hard for those IT professionals who dismiss cloud computing as a fad and who are wedded to particular operating systems and technology platforms. But for the IT professionals like Fafel who view adding cloud computing skills as a career opportunity, retooling their skillsets for the cloud will be a relatively straightforward process, they say.

"There's a great benefit today in that there are so many [training] resources available," says Bernard Golden, CEO of cloud computing and virtualization consulting company HyperStratus (and CIO.com blogger). "There are a lot of online resources, and a lot of these products you can use for free or they're dirt cheap. You have a real opportunity to get hands-on experience with a low barrier to entry."

IT professionals interested in learning about cloud computing would be wise to begin their education now, cloud computing experts agree.

"Right now, everyone is doing something as it relates to the cloud," says David Nichols, CIO Services leader for Ernst & Young. "They may have one or two applications in the cloud or are using it for storage. For just about everyone, what they're putting in the cloud is so small relative to the rest of their infrastructure that they don't have to worry about addressing this new business model separately."

The fact that most enterprises and IT departments are currently inching their way to the cloud, as Nichols describes, works to IT professionals' advantage: It takes some pressure off of them. They can learn at their own pace, as opposed to having to quickly come up to speed in the midst of a major cloud transformation. By starting their training now, they can get ahead of the technology curve.

"Cloud is here to stay. It is not a flash in the pan. It is a paradigm shift, and IT professionals need to recognize it," says Andy Knosp, vice president of professional services for Eucalyptus Software, a provider of a platform for private infrastructure-as-a-service clouds. "If they are going to increase their skills and their value in the [job] market, now is the time to get trained."

Here, cloud computing experts offer advice to IT professionals on how they can adapt their skillsets for the cloud, and they describe the impact cloud computing will have on application developers, architects, systems administrators, capacity planners and vendor managers.

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