The Changing Role of IT in the Cloud

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The cloud is forcing business IT operations and staff roles to evolve. Learn more about the changes and new opportunities the cloud is bringing to IT

by Ashok K. Iyengar

Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from chapter 7 of IBM Cloud Platform Primer, by Ashok K. Iyengar.

The biggest changes that cloud computing brings to an enterprise are changes in mindset and operational transformation. While some of these changes are abstract, there are very concrete things that IT organizations can and should do to take full advantage of the cloud environment. From redefining roles to taking on new responsibilities, this chapter discusses the various operational and organizational transformations afoot in large IT organizations.

Even signing up to be a user of public cloud services, whether those services are infrastructure or software, requires a change in the IT thought process. By the end of this chapter, it should be apparent that to operate in this new environment you need to be more of a generalist than a specialist.

A Different Approach to IT Operations

IT staff who manage traditional data centers have far more control than those who manage cloud environments. The nature of cloud computing allows non-IT staff to do more, so the traditional install-and-maintain paradigm has given way to deploy and monitor. As the move to service-based IT continues, the knowledge, skills, and abilities of many of the IT roles are very quickly being transformed.

As Figure 1 shows, in a traditional data center IT staff has full control over most components and tasks. But as you move to “as a service” environments, we see the IT teams have less control of and influence over how things are done. While that might make IT operations teams uneasy, it bodes well for the developer community because they are no longer at the mercy of the IT staff and can thus accelerate the speed of development and deployment of software solutions.

The Changing Role of IT in the Cloud - Figure 1

Figure 1: Spheres of influence by IT departments

This shift really means that the roles, responsibilities, and skill sets are changing in the IT landscape. For example, systems administrators now have the opportunity to become cloud administrators, service managers can look ahead to becoming cloud service managers, enterprise architects are becoming cloud architects, and even the ever-present computer consultant can add new skills to his or her repertoire and become a cloud consultant. So, there is something new for everyone in the cloud space.

New Opportunities in the Cloud

What do IT professionals have to look forward to in moving to the cloud? The first thing to realize is that systems have become smarter, simpler, and more accessible, and consequently the need is for more generalists and fewer specialists in the cloud-based IT organization. The expert integrated systems on which most cloud environments run are forcing organizations to become less compartmentalized and much more integrated.

These cloud systems are also forcing a change in skill sets. One has to think about transient resources more than permanent resources. The promise of making it easier to implement virtualized environments also means that re-provisioning the same resources becomes easier. The result is that environments have shorter lifetimes. People will have to become good at learning various abstraction layers.

Some of the new roles and the responsibilities that come with them are discussed below. These roles are directly responsible for interacting with cloud systems. Other roles are more consultative in nature and are considered secondary roles. Figure 2 captures the suggested roles for IT departments that are considering implementing cloud solutions.

The Changing Role of IT in the Cloud - Figure 2

Figure 2: Suggested roles for IT departments deploying cloud solutions

  • Cloud administrator: The cloud administrator role is responsible for configuring and managing the physical cloud. That responsibility encompasses all assets related to the cloud, such as creating cloud groups to provide isolation, creating IP groups when required, monitoring resource utilization, and most important, adjusting assigned resources based on the needs and demands of the cloud users.
  • Cloud architect: It is imperative that enterprise architects now understand IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. Every cloud computing architecture will touch one or more of those services. Knowing whether to recommend a public cloud or a private cloud and whether to make use of software as a service for lower environments are some of the nuances that cloud architects must be familiar with. A cloud architect will also be asked to provide leadership in convincing customers on the adoption and use of cloud computing.
  • Cloud consultant: The things that drive cloud computing, such as rapid application development and continuous delivery or DevOps, new scripting languages, and new APIs, including Representational State Transfer (REST) and mobile APIs, are some of the competencies a cloud consultant needs to develop. Whether it is automating deployments or pushing applications to a public cloud platform, this role forces one to be a generalist and agile.
  • Cloud developer: A cloud developer has a narrower scope than does a cloud consultant. He or she would create applications using languages such as Node.js and use Python or shell scripting to facilitate application deployment. The cloud developer would know how to grab resources in the cloud when needed and make it a point to release them or de-allocate them they are no longer needed. One has to understand the intricacies of working in a shared environment and why security is so important.
  • Cloud integration architect: Developing integration architecture and providing integration solution guidance is the main role of the cloud integration architect. Whether it’s integration of back-end systems in the data center with the public cloud or finding the right architecture to connect an on-premises cloud with off-premises services, the cloud integration architect would be familiar with all types of cloud, especially hybrid cloud solutions. This role would also need to be aware of cloud orchestration and related tools.

Other roles are not new, but their job descriptions have expanded to include cloud-related responsibilities.

  • Systems administrator: As with any physical server, the systems administrator will have to own the physical cloud system in the case of a private or on-premises cloud. Keeping the system up, monitoring it, reporting on it, and providing security credentials to users would be among the systems administrator’s tasks. If the organization is using a public cloud or off-premises cloud, the additional responsibilities would be minimal and would entail monitoring the availability of the off-premises cloud, requesting user and group access, and requesting new software.
  • Network administrator: The job of planning, design, assigning, deploying, and maintaining the enterprise network continues as usual, but now the job would span one or more cloud infrastructures. Network administrators would have to work with the cloud administrator to agree on the allocation of network resources and provide the necessary VLANs and IP groups to create clouds and ensure network compliance within the enterprise.
  • Security administrator: One area that garners a lot of attention is security. Clients are afraid that putting things on the cloud would open a window into all their business secrets and private data. Security administrators are heavily consulted when standing up a cloud environment to enforce corporate security compliance and appease corporate executives that there are no security holes that would allow unauthorized entry into the corporate IT domain from the cloud. While customers love the idea of self-service, security administrators have to constantly manage users and groups and review the necessary authorization to the cloud.