Posts Tagged‘software as a service’

Will The Cloud Kill The IT Admin?

IT is one of the few services that all companies require to compete in today’s markets. IT support then is one of those rare industries where jobs are always around to be had, even for those working in entry level positions. Of course this assumes that you put in the required effort to stay current as letting your skills lapse for 2 or more years will likely leave you a generation of technology behind, making employment difficult. This is of course due to the IT industry constantly evolving and changing itself and much like other industries certain jobs can be made completely redundant by technological advancements.

For the past couple decades though the types of jobs you expect to see in IT support have remained roughly the same, save for the specializations brought on by technology. As more and more enterprises came online and technology began to develop a multitude of specializations became available, enabling then generic “IT guys” to become highly skilled workers in their targeted niche. I should I know, just on a decade ago I was one of those generic IT support guys and today I’m considered to be a specialist when it comes to hardware and virtualization. Back when I started my career the latter of those two skills wasn’t even in the vernacular of the IT community, let alone a viable career path.

Like any skilled position though specialists aren’t exactly cheap, especially for small to medium enterprises (SMEs). This leads to an entire second industry of work-for-hire specialists (usually under the term “consultants”) and companies looking to take the pain out of utilizing the technology without having to pay for the expertise to come in house. This isn’t really a surprise (any skilled industry will develop these secondary markets) but with IT there’s a lot more opportunity to automate and leverage economies of scale, more so than any other industry.

This is where Cloud Computing comes in.

The central idea behind cloud computing is that an application can be developed to run on a platform which can dynamically deliver resources to it as required. The idea is quite simple but the execution of it is extraordinarily complicated requiring vast levels of automation and streamlining of processes. It’s just an engineering problem however, one that’s been surmounted by several companies and used to great effect by many other companies who have little wish to maintain their own infrastructure. In essence this is just outsourcing taken to the next level, but following this trend to its logical conclusion leads to some interesting (and, if you’re an IT support worker, troubling) predictions.

For SMEs the cost of running their own local infrastructure, as well as the support staff that goes along with it, can be one of their largest cost centres. Cloud computing and SaaS offers the opportunity for SMEs to eliminate much of the cost whilst keeping the same level of functionality, giving them more capital to either reinvest in the business or bolster their profit margins. You would think then that this would just be a relocation of jobs from one place to another but cloud services utilize much fewer staff due to the economies of scale that they employ, leaving fewer jobs available for those who had skills in those area.

In essence cloud computing eliminates the need for the bulk of skilled jobs in the IT industry. There will still be need for most of the entry level jobs that cater to regular desktop users but the back end infrastructure could easily be handled by another company. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this, pushing back against such innovation never succeeds, but it does call into question those jobs that these IT admins currently hold and where their future lies.

Outside of high tech and recently established businesses the adoption rate of cloud services hasn’t been that high. Whilst many of the fundamentals of the cloud paradigm (virtualization, on-demand resourcing, infrastructure agnostic frameworks) have found their way into the datacenter the next logical step, migrating those same services into the cloud, hasn’t occurred. Primarily I believe this is due to the lack of trust and control in the services as well as companies not wanting to write off the large investments they have in infrastructure. This will change over time of course, especially as that infrastructure begins to age.

For what its worth I still believe that the ultimate end goal will be some kind of hybrid solution, especially for governments and the like. Cloud providers, whilst being very good at what they do, simply can’t satisfy the need of all customers. It is then highly likely that many companies will outsource routine things to the cloud (such as email, word processing, etc) but still rely on in house expertise for the customer applications that aren’t, and probably will never be, available in the cloud. Cloud computing then will probably see a shift in some areas of specialization but for the most part I believe us IT support guys won’t have any trouble finding work.

We’re still in the very early days of cloud computing and its effects on the industry are still hard to judge. There’s no doubt that cloud computing has the potential to fundamentally change the way the world does IT services and whatever happens those of us in IT support will have to change to accommodate it. Whether that comes in the form of reskilling, training or looking for a job in a different industry is yet to be determined but suffice to say that the next decade will see some radical changes in the way businesses approach their IT infrastructure.

Cloud Computing: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the SaaS.

A few years ago someone had the bright notion to sell Software as a Service (SaaS) instead of a product. Built off the idea of things like Google Docs it seemed like a great way to get software into an organisation without having to convince them to outlay thousands of dollars on hardware or licenses. Couple that with its synergy with other buzz words of the time (thank you Service Oriented Architecture) it seemed like a great idea. Having your applications and data available over the Internet greatly increased its portability, and was a viable solution for some companies to provide collaboration solutions to their remote workers.

However, it never really took off into large scale enterprises. Primarily this was due to privacy concerns as many companies could not trust the SaaS providers to keep their data safe and secure. Additionally, with many SaaS clients you had to have a stable Internet connection, otherwise your data was completely unavailable to you. A lot of providers then tried to shift the focus away from completely online solutions and then moved part of the infrastructure in house for the clients, attempting to alleviate the issues people had raised.

Then, for a couple of quiet blissful years no one really talked about SaaS any more. That was until someone found a new buzzword for it: Cloud Computing.

Behold the almighty cloud of the Internet. We can put all your services on here and provide you with infinitely scalable and customizable solutions! We’ve taken the ideals of SaaS and translated them onto your infrastructure (IaaS) and platforms (PaaS) to create the mighty Cloud!

In essence there’s just a bit more abstraction in the terms of implementation, but Cloud Computing is just SaaS reborn.

Cloud computing takes the idea that if we abstract all the layers of delivering a service to an end user they can then take advantage of huge amounts of infrastructure without the huge initial investment. The idea works well with things that experience high peak loads but low baselines, say a website that gets slashdotted. The cloud would be able to detect that there’s a sudden surge and provision more resources on the fly, something that all high traffic sites like the sound of. Additionally the cloud allows for users to be agnostic in their decisions about infrastructure, since cloud applications are designed to run on an abstracted layer that resides above the underlying hardware and software.

It’s the concept of “We do all the hard work for you so you don’t have to worry about X” where X is the IT problem du jour.

Don’t get me wrong though, Cloud Computing has quite a lot of uses and the added additional abstraction at the platform and infrastructure area make it a lot easier for developers and engineers to design solutions for the end users. It also gets everyone out of that mindset of “I have this nail, so I need this hammer” when in fact they should be asking “What’s the best way to secure this board to my house?”.

There are some pretty good applications coming out based on the Cloud idea. One, which made waves at this years GDC, was OnLive:

This is what the cloud is all about. You no longer have to worry about what hardware you’re running on and you have hundreds of games at your fingertips. Unfortunately it suffers from the same problems as other cloud services in that its scope is somewhat limited by the few issues that plague it and they’re planning to monetise it straight away. I’m sure there will be some kind of trial period where everyone can have a go but if they provided some ad supported free version of this it would be a huge hit instantly. Trying to charge people right off the bat will slow adoption, but it would help to keep the debt collectors at bay.

Overall Cloud Computing looks like a great idea and it is getting a lot more traction then its predecessor SaaS did. I think at the time that SaaS came out people still didn’t trust these new fangled Web 2.0 apps enough to give their corporate data to them. After many years of Facebook, Youtube and Google Docs we’ve started to come to grips with what the web can provide, and so have the business execs.

Just remember that it’s still SaaS at heart. 🙂