Cloud computing deployments require a different sort of IT expertise in academia.
Shifting Skill Sets
Cloud computing changes everything. It makes college and university IT departments more nimble and offers greater computing resources at less cost, while giving large organizations the ability to turn on a dime as their technology needs change. The cloud model also alters the kinds of skills and personnel needed to drive IT departments forward.
The skills these departments will need may vary depending on whether they're building a private cloud or subscribing to services from a commercial provider, says Mark White, chief technology officer of Deloitte Consulting's technology practice.
“For instance, an organization focused on building a private cloud must transform its IT group into a cloud service provider. They'll need the same kinds of expertise they developed in growing their data center – skills in consolidation, optimization and virtualization,” says White. “But they'll also need the talent to do fairly sophisticated operations and application automation, as well as server provisioning and de-provisioning, and service management.”
Colleges and universities that plan to rely more on public cloud providers, especially for basic infrastructure needs, will probably need fewer operations people to maintain, patch and upgrade systems, White contends. But they will still require people with expertise in creating a catalog of cloud services, managing subscribers, brokering agreements with cloud providers and intervening when problems arise.
At Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, the cloud touches nearly everything and everyone. All student accounts are maintained in a commercial cloud, as well as the ePortfolios students compile as they matriculate, says Dr. Eric Darr, executive vice president and provost. Because Harrisburg relies on a public cloud provider, Darr's five full-time IT staff and three student interns can focus on more important duties than infrastructure maintenance or data integration.
Reliance on the cloud also changes the kinds of employees Darr seeks, as well as the kinds of skills a technology-oriented institution promotes.
“We need people who can think creatively about what can be done with cloud computing," Darr says. "That puts a greater premium on system architects and business analysts – people who can think about not merely what data makes it into the cloud, but what apps or business processes don't have to reside within the walls of our university. Cloud computing requires a different way of thinking creatively and systematically.”
On the other hand, says Darr, it's less clear what skills the cloud makes obsolete. “We're still a ways off from being able to rely totally on software developed by others or apps you can put together like Legos.”
The Indiana University of Pennsylvania relies on a private cloud using virtualized machines to house its learning management systems and portions of its student information systems. Paul Grieggs, technical services manager at IUP, says the cloud is driving his technicians to develop so-called soft skills such as negotiation and service management.
Grieggs acknowledges that basic expertise is still required, especially for security. “None of that goes away with VMware or the cloud. But analysts now need to be able to think beyond their code set.”
He says cloud calls for staff to look outside their departments more than in the past, such as working with legal services when negotiating contracts or explaining to procurement what the services are and how IUP purchased them.
Growth in job listings posted in 2010 requiring cloud computing skills
Grieggs says the adjustment from being hands-on to being a manager of other providers hasn't always been easy for staff. “Some people had difficulty making the transition to being a kind of middleman instead of the person doing everything,” he says. “Some folks would rather do it all themselves instead of coordinating vendors and others to get something done for them.”
More important, says Harrisburg's Darr, is that the cloud is changing how universities teach technology.
“As more and more businesses need people with computer science or information technology skills, they also need those professionals to have a sense of creativity and understanding of the business in a way traditional universities don't necessarily build into their curriculum,” he says. "The next generation of IT workers will need aspects of creativity, collaboration and business savvy.”
Got your eyes on the cloud? There's more than one kind, and each may be used for different purposes – for example, to provide raw computing power, host custom apps, serve up ready-made applications, or provide data backup and storage. Here are the four basic types.
- Public cloud: A commercial service that allows any user to access computing resources and subscribe to applications that are paid for with a credit card.
- Private cloud: As with a commercial cloud, users can self-provision hardware or services, but the infrastructure is managed within the organization or contracted to a trusted third party, typically to maintain tighter control over sensitive information.
- Community cloud: A cloud designed to support a community of organizations with similar needs, usually managed by the organizations themselves or by a third party, which is more cost effective than a private cloud.
- Hybrid cloud: A combination of private, community or public clouds that employ the same technologies and enable data and application portability among them, enabling them to scale as needed.