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Got It!

Adapting IT Admin Skills to the Cloud

July 09, 2018


In 1998 Spencer Johnson published Who Moved My Cheese, a parable about change that has become a celebrated tome within big business, and especially within the IT industry. Even after two decades worth of debate and discussion around Who Moved My Cheese, there is insight to be had about the evolving job of IT administrators.

The basic story of Who Moved My Cheese is that an individual awakens one day to discover that the supply of cheese they had relied on had run out. Finding a new source of cheese would require the individual to move outside of their comfort zone. Ultimately, the individual overcomes fear, goes exploring, and finds more cheese. What moral one should take away from the book depends on whom you ask. Many individuals – usually those in a position to benefit from a given change – will say that the moral of the story is that change is good, and that embracing it leads to a better life. Others – usually those who will be negatively affected by a given change – tend to view Who Moved My Cheese as a patronizing tale designed to suppress legitimate criticism and concerns. 

Context is often important in Who Moved My Cheese debates. There are probably as many takes on the book as there are outcomes for individuals affected by change. But this, in and of itself, is the lesson: while change is often inevitable, the results of change are complex, and the impact on individuals diverse.

Change, Clouds and Speed 

Change is a constant in IT, especially now that public cloud adoption has become mainstream. Organizations of all sizes are moving from IT infrastructure that they owned and operated to infrastructure – and even applications – delivered as a service. 

Traditionally, outsourcing in IT has come in cycles. Organizations outsource as much of their operations to low-wage countries as possible, realize that one gets what one pays for, and then bring all that IT back in-house. While some argue that cloud computing is just the latest round of outsourcing, there is a case to be made that it represents a more permanent change in the IT landscape. Traditional outsourcing has always been driven by costs (perceived or otherwise). Public cloud providers only had the luxury of pretending they were cheaper than on-premises IT for a few years before everyone caught on. Unlike traditional outsourcing, however, very few organizations reacted to shocking cloud costs by bringing all their workloads back in house.

The truth of the matter is that the public cloud offers capabilities that most on-premises IT teams simply cannot deliver. Chief among these capabilities is speed: the public cloud allows new services to be engaged in minutes, if not seconds, and it only becomes more capable less and burdened by red tape as the years pass by.

One could insert discussions here about Shadow IT, DevOps and any number of current movements within IT, as they're all driven by the same demand for instant gratification. Speed matters, and because it does, the public cloud isn't going anywhere.

Error 301: Moved Permanently 

The slower an organization is to adapt the more likely that organization is to be driven out of business by their competitors. A horse and buggy can still deliver goods today just as well as they could 150 years ago, however, a truck or van can deliver more goods faster, while a bike courier can deliver smaller goods less expensively. The horse and buggy are still in use all around the world. While predominantly still used in less affluent countries, they still find use in remote areas of first-world nations. Goods delivery via everything from vehicles to bike couriers, however, eclipses the humble horse and buggy by orders of magnitude. IT is no different. 

Even those organizations determined to keep all of their IT in house – or which must do so due to regulatory compliance issues – must move faster if they are to be able to compete. This means that IT automation is the name of the game, on-premises as well as in the cloud. The newly urgent focus on IT automation means that the cheese supplies of traditional "keeping the lights on" on-premises systems administrators are decreasing every year. Fewer organizations are interested in spending IT person-hours on mundane administration tasks each year. This leads to an increasing number of traditional IT administrators looking for a dwindling supply of jobs. The glut of traditional administrators looking for jobs will create downward wage pressure and ultimately result in traditional systems administration being relegated to a niche. The cheese is being permanently moved.

Cloudy Cloud Cloud

By embracing the public cloud organizations are not only able to move faster, but they are able to devote their technically competent human resources toward problems that affect the business, and maybe even revenue-generating activities. Most organizations don't make money resizing LUNs or tinkering with ACLs. They make money by delivering goods and/or services to customers.

IT operations staffs are thus adapting. Many are becoming cloud architects and cloud engineers. Others are turning their focus toward systems integration tasks, or moving into management positions where they can combine their understanding of what's possible using modern IT with an in-depth exposure to the political, economic, and practical challenges facing their organization. 

A systems administrator that keeps basic IT infrastructure operational is performing a valuable and useful service. A systems administrator that connects the point of sales system to the logistics system, enabling automated waybill generation, eliminates error-prone human input and potentially saves their organization millions of dollars a year. The systems administrator that obtains both basic IT infrastructure and the interoperation of the point of sales and logistics systems with a credit card and a few button clicks starts a revolution.

Who Moved My Cheese? 

While it is easy to see the advantages of cloud computing for organizations, at the level of the individual, the shift to the cloud may not be a good thing. Systems administrators who still want to work in IT are being forced to retrain, often on their own time and their own dime. And with all the automation and ease of use, there's no guarantee that there will be more total jobs for systems administrators five years from now than there are today. Any change important enough to affect an entire industry is going to be one in which there are a variety of outcomes. One important lesson to take from Who Moved My Cheese is that when you're the rat in the maze, you're not the one who gets to decide when the cheese gets moved. Regardless of whether or not the change is positive for us as individuals, public cloud computing and IT automation are inevitable. 

The future is both on-premises, and it's in the cloud. The future is complex, and will require that we rely on management, monitoring, analytics, and orchestration tools that correlate and coordinate more data from more data sources than we as individuals possibly could. The future requires that we create, destroy, and interweave workloads faster than is possible manually; and it demands that we catch and respond to errors and security events in an automated fashion. 

Change is occurring. The cheese has been moved. Our best chance for success – both as individuals and as organizations – is learn the tools that will make this new era of rapid change possible.

One tool for full-stack monitoring and automation is Uila. Try Uila today, and gain the insights into all of your workloads necessary to keep pace with change.



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