The bigger issue was that central IT staff didn’t have security controls in place for public cloud workloads. That’s about to change after the CIO issued an edict for central IT to develop controls across the three major public cloud providers: Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.
“Even if a school is not aggressively moving to the cloud, the security, networking and operations folks need to have cloud in their skill set to be of service to the university,” says Flynn. “When a faculty or researcher uses a university login to create a project in the cloud, it’s official university business, and we are responsible.”
Universities can hire experts, but to fully address the skills gap, they should train existing employees, says Richard Munro, VMware’s director of global cloud strategy.
“Nobody can go out and recruit all the talent that is necessary to get to the cloud. They are not going to be able to afford it,” he says.
Sarah Christen, director of IT infrastructure at Cornell University, agrees. Cornell has created new positions, such as cloud DevOps engineers, and has made good hires. But with cloud skills in high demand and Cornell isolated in central New York state, she says, those strategies have their limits.
“It’s hard to hire from the outside,” Christen says.
Colleges Customize Cloud Skills Training for IT Staff
Every campus is unique, so leaders are training their teams in a variety of ways.
At the University of Notre Dame, IT leaders set a goal in 2014 to move 80 percent of services to the cloud. They accomplished that in three years by creating a cloud team and rotating IT employees in for six-month stretches.
That way, everyone gained experience on new methodologies, says Scott Kirner, the interim senior director for campus technology services.
Notre Dame provided two types of on-premises training to IT staff, which included security experts; application developers; and network, systems, storage and database engineers: a two-day training on basic cloud foundational skills and, for those who needed it, a week-long cloud architecture training course.
Cornell embarked on a cloud initiative four years ago in a move to modernize its IT infrastructure. It provided online training to central staff, but also created a campuswide peer education group that meets twice a month to discuss cloud strategies, says Christen.
Cornell is a highly distributed IT organization, with 250 central employees and about 500 IT staffers in individual colleges and departments. Christen created the campuswide group so that everyone could collaborate, discuss issues (for example, how to refactor applications to the cloud) and create how-to documents, which they share over a wiki.
“We solve problems together rather than reinvent the wheel every time,” she says.
As for training, Cornell offered a 100-day online training that included hands-on projects.
Indiana University recently offered training to its cloud security working group (comprising staff in networking, security, operations and policy) on how to properly configure and manage workloads in Google Cloud Platform. Flynn plans to offer the same for AWS and Azure.
Because classes involve only a small number of people, Flynn plans to obtain subscriptions to online training, and use a library model where people can check out licenses for three weeks at a time to get training in preparation for certification tests. If the university wants to provide hands-on training, they can pool the licenses to hold training sessions, he says.
Tips and Best Practices: Closing the Cloud Skills Gap
Successful cloud transformations first require a shift in mindset, away from the traditional IT inclination to lock things down and maintain control, says VMware’s Munro.
Campus users, including students, want to innovate and create on the latest technologies, and that includes cloud services. So IT staff must adapt and be flexible, while addressing privacy and security concerns, he says.