Data Center Professionals

Data Center Professionals

Antonella Corno, product manager for the Data Center/Virtualization, Cloud SDN product lines within Learning@Cisco, says:

The evolution of data center technology brings both opportunities and challenges. IT departments are beginning to see that it’s not just about buying the latest and most powerful equipment. They also need to make sure that their employees have all the skills that a modern data center requires. If the staff aren’t trained properly, some of the benefits of that powerful equipment may go unrealized.

Engineers and data center operators must possess adaptability and versatility as the data center presents near-constant changes. Virtualization is one of the factors driving that change, with the arrival of the virtual switch, a significant development. Though not exactly new to the scene—some server operating systems have had them for more than 10 years—they are being used in today’s implementations at a record level.

Assessing Your Data Center Approach

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.

Considerations for Data Center Training

In these situations, 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.”

An Architect to Unite the Data Center

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.

Filling the Gaps

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.

Data centers are facing a knowledge gap, extending across all job roles. Specialized roles like unified I/O engineer or server virtualization engineer will also face a shortage. This knowledge gap must be bridged from both directions. The newly graduated workforce has partial training, and the current workforce must move from a tried-and-true environment to one powered by advanced technologies. Both sets of employees require timely training. Organizations that can find the right mix and equip their workforce stand to overcome the challenges to take advantage of the opportunities that the new data center offers.