bright ideas

Why You Need To Unlearn Everything About IT Infrastructure


With the evolution of massive scale public cloud services, the way we manage IT infrastructure is changing and the IT infrastructure employee needs to change with it. But is this change in skills too much of a massive leap and what will it take to survive in this future world of cloud?

It's all about getting information to humans

Let’s start from the beginning. If we boil down the reasons for IT existing in the first place, it comes down to a very simple purpose – it’s to get information to humans. Anything more than this is a necessary evil to achieve that goal.
So if you consider the layers (excluding networks) that are required to deliver that goal, it looks a little like this:

  • We need an app in order to communicate the information to a human.
  • We need a database to store the information.
  • We need an operating system to support the app and database.
  • We need a virtual machine to host the operating system.
  • And so on….

As we can see, there are many layers involved in achieving the outcome of getting information to a human – and each of those layers needs reasonably discreet skills. In a very large IT environment, each layer needs highly specialist skills, which means a big team of people required to feed and water a whole bunch of necessary evils in order to achieve the simple outcome of getting information to people.

For many years, that was simply the way it was, and there were no alternatives. But of course, now with the cloud there are many alternatives.

The IT infrastructure stack is dissolving

As cloud services mature, become more prolific, reduce in cost, and increase in dependability, the stack illustrated above starts to dissolve from the bottom up. We are seeing this now through the emergence of Platform-as-a-Service, Database-as-a-Service, and so on.

The advent of Cloud, Mobile, Big Data and ubiquitous high speed communications means that any business can leverage those technologies to differentiate and create value. As CIO’s come around to this fact (or are replaced with CDO’s or CIO’s who “get it”) the appetite for owning and operating on-premise infrastructure also starts to dissolve, as the operational requirements become a distraction on the path to creating business value.

If we accept this opinion as fact, then what becomes of the infrastructure specialists? For the first time in my almost 18 years in IT, I’m seeing skills that are no longer required. I don’t mean someone who hasn’t “upgraded” to the latest version of their skills, but people whose skills unfortunately do not have a logical evolution path, and therefore will have to re-train. Even those whose skills can somewhat transpose to the cloud era need to make a significant mind shift in order to remain valuable.

Witness the birth of DevOps

Yes it’s a buzzword, thrashed to death by many, and perhaps like “Cloud” it will take a little longer before we all agree what it actually means. From my first-hand experience as an IT infrastructure specialist, I think the definition is pretty simple:

DevOps means an IT specialist who has one foot in Infrastructure and one foot in Development, and can be valuable to an organisation by understanding both.

DevOps employees are evolving from each end. The Dev guys are being forced down the stack to understand cloud era infrastructure components, while traditional Infrastructure guys are being forced up the stack by demands of the development team, or if they’re smart, self-preservation.

Sadly the infrastructure guys have a bigger step to take than the development guys. Developers are simply learning something new, however the infrastructure guys, in a way, have to unlearn so they can relearn again. For example, you don’t replicate a VM anymore, you scale out in a fault tolerant manner - however that fault tolerant configuration still needs to be managed and monitored to ensure it’s behaving “like the box says”, which is often not what happens. Infrastructure guys will also need to understand more than just a little scripting, they’ll need to expose themselves to the “dark arts” of development in order to be meaningful.

For all intents and purposes the role of the infrastructure specialist is evolving, and in a traditional sense the clock is ticking before the role becomes redundant. Infrastructure specialists must evolve to fully comprehend and embrace their new role in the cloud era - those that don’t will be left behind.

What do you think about the role of IT Infastructure in the new world of cloud? Do you agree that DevOps is the logical evolution? Let us know your thoughts.

Author: Symon Thurlow

Symon is responsible for the evolution of our managed services for private and public cloud, virtual infrastructure and data protection services.

17 September 2014 / 0 Comments