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Conquering the Cloud: Skills to Master in a Services-Based World
The rise and adoption of cloud services fundamentally changes the role of the IT professional

In a recent survey of IT pros, not only did cloud computing rank as a top three technology both as most disruptive and as most significant to business over the past three to five years, but it ranked as the number one technology investment most needed for businesses to remain competitive in the next three to five years.

In short, the cloud is here, and it's here to stay. We're naturally seeing many enterprises move to the cloud, at least in a hybrid traditional computing-cloud approach (for now). As more cloud-based services are born, the shift will only accelerate. This begs the question, what does all this mean for today's IT pro?

Does the cloud mean the end of the IT pro?
The rise and adoption of cloud services fundamentally changes the role of the IT professional. Some even argue that the demand for particular IT jobs may disappear altogether. That may sound ominous, but some aspects of IT will indeed change and many things IT pros do today will go away. Some companies may get to the point where they have to ask themselves if enough of the IT infrastructure remains on premise to justify maintaining current internal IT roles.

However, IT will not go extinct because of the shift to the cloud. In fact, it presents IT pros with an opportunity to do something absolutely critical to business success and that no one else is in a better position to do: manage and integrate these cloud services into existing business systems. This will be key for IT pros who want to remain relevant in the new services-based world.

Become cloud leaders
To remain relevant, IT pros must embrace the cloud, not be afraid of it. Business leaders have become more tech-savvy, yes, but they lack the IT skills needed to navigate the transition from traditional computing to cloud computing. This is where today's IT pro can step up as a leader in the new cloud environment, but it will take work.

Leveraging cloud services is not the same as delivering similar services from on-premise systems. In some cases, like IaaS and PaaS, IT pros will have to learn new ways of creating and deploying systems and applications. With a hybrid approach, IT pros will be challenged with managing a unified system running on different infrastructure in different places. For SaaS, the challenge will largely revolve around ensuring performance with only the data and management options provided by the vendor along with integration of the information provided by that vendor with other cloud or on premise systems to meet business objectives.

In light of these challenges and a few others, here are several steps IT pros need to take to survive in the services-based world:

  • Understand cloud services and technologies: As a starting point, IT pros need to know the key cloud services options available - SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. But it's not enough just to understand the options, it's important to determine what options work best for the business. For example, a small business that uses standard applications may benefit from SaaS, but larger enterprises that use a multitude of applications both standard and custom may benefit from a combination of services such as IaaS and PaaS. IT pros need to empower themselves to build and implement these solutions while also ensuring they're operating at optimal performance levels.
  • Ensure proper application and system integration: IT pros need to develop new skills around integrating cloud services with existing internal business systems or other cloud services to meet company-specific needs. If a company plans to primarily use cloud in a hybrid approach, IT pros will need to understand both their traditional job, how a related SaaS, IaaS or PaaS solution works and how to integrate them.
  • Become an IT security guru: While the cloud isn't necessarily less secure than on-premise systems, the security implications and risks of the cloud are slightly different. IT pros will need to learn the different cloud design models and related security tools available to help build a strong solution and increase confidence from business leaders.
  • Develop business skills: Understanding cloud technologies, their security implications and how to integrate applications and systems is crucial. Yet, IT pros need to take it to the next level and ensure IT priorities align with business objectives and needs. This skill is especially important as SaaS-type applications allow more IT decisions to be made by business people without the current levels of dependency on IT. Being able to understand the implementation, operations, management, integration and security of cloud systems in context of business requirements will be a valuable skill indeed.

Cloud computing is only one of the many emerging technologies impacting the way IT works today, but it is perhaps the most pervasive. IT pros must remain nimble, learning new skills and adapting to new technology trends while also understanding how these trends align with business strategies. This will empower IT pros to continually adapt their role and take a seat at the table as business bottom lines become increasingly reliant on technology.

About Michael Thompson
Michael Thompson is Director of Systems Management Business at SolarWinds.

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