CERN data center in Meyrin, Switzerland, 2017 Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
CERN data center in Meyrin, Switzerland, 2017

Data Center Jobs in a Post-Cloud World: How to Adapt

Cloud computing is changing the data center job market. Here’s what data center workers can do to stay relevant and thrive in this post-cloud world.

The data center job market is changing as companies adopt cloud computing and close or scale back their on-premises facilities.

In some cases, the move to the cloud or to a hybrid environment means layoffs, and in other cases, it means a change in job responsibilities for technician-level data center workers like network administrators, systems engineers, and storage engineers.

“The idea of a no-cloud policy is becoming almost as rare as a no-internet policy,” said Christopher Quigley, manager at the cloud recruiting firm FRG Technology Consulting. “Due to this, more and more in-house administrators have to adapt to a gradual shift toward a hybrid cloud environment.”

An “evolution” is coming to data center jobs, Quigley added. But data center IT workers can take several steps to keep up with the changing nature of their profession, many IT job experts said.

More Complexity, New Skills

The impact of a cloud deployment on a company’s data center jobs, however, depends on how fully the employer embraces cloud computing. In a large-scale move to the cloud, the on-premises engineer “will frequently not have access to the cloud solution,” Quigley said. Instead, the data center technicians will focus mainly on backend configuration, MPLS, Active Directory interconnection, and hardware management.

“If their company chooses to have onsite vendor engineers, then they may be left mainly with administrative tasks,” he said. But gaining new skills -- Active Directory, for example -- can give a technician a new role that can boost their career.

While Quigley sees many data center technician job becoming more administrative, others see them as becoming more complex.

Companies operating data centers are making fewer “mundane requests,” such as swapping tapes, simple backups, and simple monitoring, and giving workers more tasks related to security, tuning, and knowledge-base management, said Jeff Biggs, executive VP of data center operations at Flexential, the data center provider formed as a result of last year’s merger between Peak 10 and ViaWest. “That means companies will likely target new hires with more advanced skills in those areas.”

Data center jobs can move in a couple of directions when an organization embraces the cloud, added Klavs Miller, CTO of the IT jobs service Dice. Those roles can become more specialized in more technical hosting technologies and in firmware and hardware, or they can broaden into more software-based cloud technologies, “where hardware and the underlying data center is abstracted,” he said.

Which New Skills?

Data center IT workers can help their careers by getting involved in the cloud migration, said Leon Adato, head geek at SolarWinds, a network and systems management vendor. They should also look for cloud-related certifications. Popular cloud certifications include CompTIA Cloud+, MCSE Cloud Platform and Infrastructure, VMware VCP6-Cloud, AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional, and Dell EMC’s EMC Cloud Architect, he said.

Dice’s Miller recommended that data center technicians gain a broad knowledge of the key cloud platforms and of Infrastructure as Code (IaC) and other DevOps disciplines. Terraform, Puppet, Docker, and related technologies are also helpful to learn, he said.

Biggs suggested data center technicians “raise their game on virtual technologies” as well as network skills and the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business.

Adato’s other advice for data center technicians: Become a data scientist by learning to “love the mathematics” behind the cloud. Develop logical thinking and proper analytics skills.

Learning interfaces can be another career builder, he said. “Know interfaces and adapt as they change. It’s not always necessary to learn entirely new technologies, but it is necessary to polish existing scripting skills.”

Success for many IT professionals going forward will depend on them learning to be both a specialist and a generalist simultaneously, Adato added. Many organizations use two or three cloud provider environments, according to the IT pros surveyed in the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2017, but about one out of every 10 organizations uses 10 providers or more.

“Hone skills that are specialized enough to do the job well, but broad enough to transfer to jobs in other platforms and verticals,” Adato suggested.

Not everyone sees a seamless transition between data center and cloud technicians, however. DataBank, a data center operator, has specialists who deal with the cloud, said Kelly Lane, a facility director for the company. “It’s a completely separate skill set -- think aircraft mechanic vs. pilot -- and usually separate roles,” he said.

Instead, data center technicians should focus on growing their skills in server administration, network administration, database administration, and security, Lane recommended.

But other IT job experts believe that learning new skills or gaining new certifications can lead to salary increases or make data center IT workers more attractive in the job market. Workers can see an increase in salary if they are willing to gain the expertise needed to become a data center specialist or that of a broader DevOps engineer with various cloud platform skills, Miller said.

Quigley suggested data center IT workers get their hands dirty during a move to the cloud. After the migration, some data center workers can stay with their company, or they can market their services elsewhere.

Either way, “the experience gained via involvement in the migration will elevate their skillset,” Quigley said. In the short term, embracing the cloud “may prove daunting for the admin, as they will lose some control over system access, but learning from the vendor can prove beneficial in the long term, both career wise and financially."

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