Antonella Corno is the product manager for the Data Center/Virtualization, Cloud SDN product lines within Learning@Cisco, creating certifications and training for customers, partners and Cisco employees.
Many IT departments are being confronted with parallel problems in light of the evolution of data center technology. In addition to investing in more powerful equipment, IT departments are realizing that they must invest in their employees’ skills if they hope to thrive in the modern data center environment. Many of the technology investments made in the data center may not see a return unless all levels of staff are properly trained.
Virtualization and the changing environment
The virtualization of the data center continues to change the status quo and requires data center operators and engineers to be flexible and adaptable. The coming of a virtual switch, for example, has significantly changed operations. Even though virtual switches have already been available in some server operating systems for more than 10 years, their level of use in modern implementations is beyond compare.
Whereas in more readily structured computing environments, roles, workflows, and skill sets are well established, the open-endedness of a virtual data center that is so powerful can be potentially overwhelming. Given all the possibilities, each company, and each team, will find itself at a different stage with data center technology. The size, history, and culture of a company, as well as the nature of its real-world projects, will also play an important role in how it decides to approach the data center.
While some data center vendors will be focused on promoting specific products and solutions, comprehensive solution providers will ensure that all of the options are made available to customers, and that customers are educated enough to make the right choices for their business.
Because technology changes may in many instances modify customer IT organizational structure, they must represent a joint investment between the solution provider and the customer. The solution provider needs to invest capital and resources in enablement, and the customer has to be willing to step up and make the changes necessary to fully exploit the potential.
Comprehensive training, preparing the workforce
When the technologies are so extensive and so new, the purpose of training should not be to simply teach employees how to join a crowd of already-trained individuals doing a particular job. The training must go beyond this and help companies create a new workforce—a workforce in which IT individuals are prepared to work within and outside of their current comfort zone.
An argument for this much more comprehensive approach to data center training can be found by looking at how data centers have historically been set up. Traditionally, companies have compartmentalized their IT department, with the result that there have been data center siloes: a computing department, a networking infrastructure department, and a storage department.
Virtualization is continuing to merge these functions, and thereby the separate siloes have started to break apart. While this dramatic shift has not been fully realized in every company yet, a pathway now exists to allow individuals to embrace data center innovation in full and bring their organizations to the next level. We have entered the era of the “data center architect.”
Identifying a data center architect
The term “data center architect” invites parallels with the construction industry. An architect designing a structure drafts a blueprint of the construction. Next the architect gathers needed information from a team of experts, who might otherwise be challenged attempting to coordinate with each other. Similarly, the data center architect, or cloud architect, looks at a company’s data center operation holistically and unites those with specific expertise in the server, network, storage, security, or software application arenas.
In the early phase of adoption, companies would do well to tap those most capable of serving as architect. These will be individuals who are not only technical experts in their discipline, but also fully capable of reaching out to the computing side of the house, extending their data center knowledge to them and interacting effectively with them. The architect will need to be a leader who can use vast experience in the field to harmonize the efforts of individuals as diverse as a server expert and a storage expert.
Data center architects appreciate the details but do not get mired in them. Instead, they function as a bridge across the complexities presented by virtualization, software integration, and application integration. Increasingly, they become less hands-on, but they must always maintain the capacity to understand, learn, and, where necessary, embrace the latest innovations.
The data center evolution
Once it has identified its data center leaders, an organization can decide how much it wants to evolve–whether to merge all the skill sets (or most of them), or maintain a compartmentalized structure. The latter model must still rely upon strong leadership that coordinates the various technologies through a robust design, albeit with a slower cross-pollination of knowledge, and consequently a slower convergence.
There is no right or wrong evolution path for organizations embracing data center virtualization technology, but there is an ongoing need to understand the complexity, identifying individuals capable of making the right decisions and implementing changes according to what is best for the company.
As part of this, organizations would be well served to maintain an open pipeline to those newly entering the workforce. While just a few years back, colleges emphasized exposure to basic networking knowledge, more and more educators are realizing the importance of imbuing students with awareness of new technologies, understanding that by doing so, there will be fewer gaps to be filled later.
Bridging the gap for future success
There exists today a data center knowledge gap across all job roles from administrators and engineers to business services and technology architects. This talent shortage continues on to specialized engineering roles as well. It is a knowledge gap that must be bridged from both directions: by a new workforce, fresh from colleges and universities and already somewhat trained as it enters the work space, and by the current workforce moving from a traditional environment to advanced technologies that call for a new and different structure and skill set.
Individual employees and organizations able to bridge this gap will find themselves well positioned for the even greater and more disruptive innovations to come.
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