Let’s start the conversation with the very real fact that cloud computing is growing quickly. Organizations are adopting the cloud as a new foundation for their business models. This kind of growth is only slated to continue as a recent Gartner report shows that cloud computing will become the bulk of new IT spend by 2016.
Furthermore, the idea and perception of cloud is changing as well. The Gartner report goes on to discuss how there is a flawed perception of cloud computing as being one large phenomenon. Rather, cloud computing is actually a spectrum of things complementing one another and building on a foundation of sharing. Inherent dualities in the cloud computing phenomenon are spawning divergent strategies for cloud computing success. The public cloud, hybrid clouds, and private clouds now dot the landscape of IT based solutions. Because of that, the basic issues have moved from ‘what is cloud’ to ‘how will cloud projects evolve’.
With all of this in mind, it’s important to now look at one of the most critical components behind the delivery of a cloud solution: the cloud architect.
There are now unbelievable new opportunities for those that truly understand cloud, the architecture, and the business drivers which push it all forward. Indeed.com lists tens of thousands of positions revolving around “Cloud Architect” jobs. Who’s hiring? Citi, CocaCola, Red Hat, IBM, AWS, GE Healthcare, and VCE; just to name a few. Salaries range from $90K to $170 and up. And, there are a lot of options as well ranging from specialization in virtualization to HPC and big data management.
Working in the cloud field and speaking with a number of different organizations, I’ve found that there are a few key traits that all cloud architects should share. Let’s look at what can help make a cloud architect be successful.
- Understanding the ecosystem. As a cloud architect your job isn’t to know just one piece of technology. Even if you’re an OpenStack expert, you have to understand how all of the underlying components interact. How does SDN impact the delivery of workloads? How does storage replication happen and which APIs are supported? Is there an interoperability issue with certain operating systems or applications? I’m not saying that you have to be an expert in every technology out there. However, a successful cloud architect will know, at the least, the foundational theories of how ecosystem technologies work and interact with their specific environment.
- ROI, value, and the business. Let’s assume that you’re a consulting cloud architect. Now, a large organization has just asked you to do a cloud ROI and you’re one who has to deliver it. Believe it or not – this absolutely falls within the capabilities of the modern cloud architect. Now, you’ll have to gauge metrics around WAN utilization, end-point devices, user interviews, virtualization levels, application delivery, data center components, external resources usage, and much more. From there, you’ll have to understand these metrics and then quantify the results to show the business where there is value. This is beyond “speaking the language of business.” Cloud architects are now a part of the business; and the technology organization. In fact, many organizations will now have a senior cloud architect help drive entire corporate initiatives. Why? They have a foundational understanding around the end-user, deploying mobility, accessing remote workloads, and how all of this impacts the business.
- Evolving with emerging technologies. One of the most critical traits for a cloud architect is to consistently evolve with the pace of the business and technological landscape. Never be afraid of change and always test out new technologies. Now, it’s easier to deploy entire platforms than ever before. Many new solutions can now be deployed as virtual machines. For example, the Palo Alto VM-Series firewalls are virtual appliances. Now, you can segment your network and test some next-generation security platforms. Similarly, Atlantis USX is a powerful storage abstraction technology – also a virtual appliance. Here, you can test out the next-generation of data control and abstraction; which can run on a number of different hypervisors. The point is that you can test the solutions, see if there is a benefit, and quickly roll them into your own environment. Evolving with emerging technologies revolves around understanding a multi-layered technological approach. This, of course, includes both virtual as well as physical platforms.
As data center, business, and cloud components become even more intertwined, cloud architects will be the masters who can put all the pieces together. An architect who can define the value of their infrastructure to an executive staff suddenly becomes an absolutely critical asset to the organization. Why? They can see the direct tie between business and technology. Furthermore, they can explain it well to a broad audience.
Here’s the reality: it’s not easy. It’s an extremely competitive market out there and oftentimes it’s hard to take the blinders off when you’re an app developer or a specialized engineer. However, if your goal is to become involved in cloud architecture, learn as much as you can about the entire ecosystem that supports it and make sure you understand the direct tie into the business process. From there, the challenge revolves around maintaining a sharp technical and business edge.