by Sarah K. White

What is a cloud architect? A vital role for success in the cloud

Nov 08, 2021
CareersCloud ComputingIT Jobs

As cloud strategies become increasingly vital and complex, cloud architects can help organizations avoid risk and ensure a successful, cost-effective transition to the cloud.

Credit: Thinkstock

What is a cloud architect?

Cloud architects are responsible for managing the cloud computing architecture in an organization, especially as cloud technologies grow increasingly complex. Cloud computing architecture encompasses everything involved with cloud computing, including the front-end platforms, servers, storage, delivery, and networks required to manage cloud storage. Cloud architects are IT specialists who have the skills and knowledge to navigate complex cloud environments, lead teams, develop and implement cloud strategies, and ensure cloud systems stay up to date and run smoothly.

Cloud architect job description

To handle the complexities of cloud adoption, most organizations will want to hire a cloud architect — if they haven’t already. These IT pros can help navigate the entire organization’s cloud adoption, helping to avoid risk and ensure a smooth transition.

According to Gartner, the three main, high-level roles of a cloud architect are:

  • Leading cultural change for cloud adoption
  • Developing and coordinating cloud architecture
  • Developing a cloud strategy and coordinating the adaptation process

To successfully make good on those high-level roles, a cloud architect’s day-to-day responsibilities, according to Gartner, include:

  • Finding talent with the necessary skills
  • Assessing applications, software and hardware
  • Creating a “cloud broker team”
  • Establish best practices for cloud across the company
  • Selecting cloud providers and vetting third-party services
  • Oversee governance and mitigate risk
  • Work closely with IT security to monitor privacy and develop incident-response procedures
  • Managing budgets and estimating cost
  • Operating at scale

Cloud architect jobs

According to a 2021 report from RightScale, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated cloud spending for most organizations. Of 750 IT cloud professionals surveyed, 61% of organizations reported they planned to spend slightly higher on cloud and 29% said they planned to spend significantly higher than originally planned prior to the pandemic. This increase in spending has translated into greater opportunities for cloud architects, as companies look to hire qualified professionals to help manage their cloud adoption strategies. Overall, cloud-related jobs have increased by 42% from 2018 to 2021.

Cloud architect jobs are typically straight forward and posted under the title cloud architect. But you may see jobs posted using titles that include specific technologies, software, or organizational departments. Some cloud architect roles are tailored to AWS or Azure; others may be targeted at specific knowledge areas such as infrastructure or blockchain. Job titles for cloud architect may include:

  • AWS Solutions Architect
  • Azure Cloud Architect
  • Blockchain Cloud Architect
  • Cloud Architect – Openstack
  • Cloud Network Architect
  • Cloud Platform Architect
  • Cloud Solution Architect – Infrastructure
  • Cyber Solutions Architect
  • Digital Platform and Solutions Architect
  • Junior Cloud Solutions Architect
  • Principal Cloud Architect
  • Prisma Cloud Solutions Architect
  • RSA AWS Cloud Architect
  • Salesforce Technical Architect
  • Senior Cloud Architect

Cloud architect salary

According to data from PayScale, the average salary for a cloud architect is $128,418 per year, with a reported salary range between $82,309 to $185,208 per year depending on experience, location, and skills.

Cloud architect skills

Cloud architects are responsible for communicating with vendors to negotiate third-party contracts for hardware, software, and other cloud technologies. It’s a constantly evolving field, and the job requires someone who can stay on top of the latest trends and technologies.

“The cloud architect should have a variety of technical and nontechnical skills, but above all, the cloud architect must be a great collaborator in order to empower and connect with a variety of other architecture roles in your organization,” says Gartner analyst Kyle Hilgendorf in his 2016 report “Analyzing the Role and Skills of the Cloud Architect.”

While strong communication skills and an ability to remain agile are crucial for a cloud architect, there are plenty of other technical and soft skills required for the job. According to Gartner, these include:

  • Application architecture
  • Automation and orchestration
  • Governance
  • I&O (input and output)
  • Integration architecture
  • Outsourcing and external hosting
  • Security
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Company and vertical experience
  • Delegation
  • Finance and legal experience
  • Procurement and vendor management
  • Program leadership
  • Thought leadership and change agency

Cloud architect certifications

If you’re just starting out in your career and you have your sights set on becoming a cloud architect, you can attend a master’s program specializing in the field. There are also a variety of certification and professional development programs you can choose from. If you already have an IT background or the right skillset for a cloud architect, you can look into one of these professional certifications to boost your resume:

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect: Amazon Web Services is the most-used cloud service in the industry. This credential certifies your ability to manage AWS applications and infrastructure. The associate level exam is for those with at least one year of hands-on experience with AWS. You’ll also be tested on your knowledge of AWS deployment and management services, among other AWS services.
  • Google Professional Cloud Architect: Google’s cloud architect certification assesses your ability to design, plan, manage, and provision cloud solution architecture and infrastructure. It also covers security and compliance, analysis, and optimization of cloud architecture. The exam uses case studies to test your knowledge in real-world scenarios, and tests your knowledge of software development methodologies and how they apply to multi-tiered distributed applications across several hybrid environments.
  • IBM Certified Solution Architect – Cloud solution Architecture V4: This certification from IBM validates your ability to design, plan, and architect a cloud solution. The exam covers your knowledge of IBM cloud reference architecture, cloud service management offerings, software for IBM Cloud, IBM Cloud services, designing a VPC solution, and cloud systems, storage, security, networks, and virtualization technologies, among other topics.
  • Arcitura Certified Cloud Architect: The Arcitura cloud architect certification is designed to demonstrate your abilities and knowledge of cloud architecture and the technology used to run and manage cloud platforms. The certification comprises several modules, the final of which includes a series of lab exercises that require applying your knowledge to real-world problems.
  • Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect Expert: This expert-level certification from Microsoft validates your skills in designing solutions that run on Azure. It’s meant for those with advanced experience and knowledge of IT operations, including topics such as networking, virtualization, identity, security, business continuity, disaster recovery, data platform, budgeting, and governance. 

For additional cloud-related certifications, see “The most valuable cloud certifications today.”

Becoming a cloud architect

There are plenty of paths to becoming a cloud architect. If you’re still early in your career, you might want to consider a formal degree program. But for those with experience in IT, Gartner suggests IT pros with the following skills and experience will find the transition easiest:

  • Enterprise architects: Hilgendorf notes that the role of a cloud architect is “a new form of an enterprise architect,” and that it’s an easy transition from enterprise to cloud architect. However, the report cautions it’s best suited to those with “real hands-on program leadership.”
  • I&O (virtualization): Those with virtualization or infrastructure architecture experience are often a good fit for the cloud architect role, since “many cloud programs begin with simple IaaS projects, and virtualization architects are best-positioned to understand the technical nuances of a ‘virtualization like’ environment,” says Hilgendorf.
  • Integration architecture (network, identity, services and data): Some of the biggest issues with cloud adoption arise with integration across the company. Integration architects are adept at working with complex systems, and they’re typically skilled at working across departments.
  • Business liaisons: Employees who are known for rocking the boat or pushing the envelope with technology can serve as valuable liaisons to encourage company buy-in to new cloud technologies.

You might even find there’s an “extremely technically savvy individual in a business unit,” who has the right skills and background to bring value to enterprise cloud adoption, says Hilgendorf. If your organization finds it difficult to land the right skills outside your company, there might be someone well suited to the role in another business unit who can transition to cloud architect with a small investment in training and education. It’s likely that people with experience in IT support, system engineering, database administration, DevOps, development, and big data will have the right skills that can translate to the role of cloud architect.

More on cloud computing: