Friday, June 04, 2010

Training and the Cloud

I’ve been having some discussions with a client about the impact of cloud computing on the IT training business, particularly IT Professional training. If you believe the hype, cloud computing will take all the problems of running your IT suite and make it a thing of the past. Thus, you don’t need any more IT Pros and therefore no training. Of course it’s nowhere as simple as that! I’ve been reading an interesting blog piece by Alan Le Marquand titled From Servers to Services: the Role for the IT Pro in the Cloud. It’s provided some good input into the training question.

Alan first makes the point that 'the cloud’ is actually many things. Cloud computing has evolved in to distinct layers, each with their own approaches and IT Pro needs. Le Marquand breaks “the cloud” down into three main layers:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS)– here you buy the software hosted by a supplier. For example, an organisation can use one of many hosted Exchange solutions for email. For this layer, the hardware, OS layers and application peices are for the most part gone. so IT Pros no longer need to worry about them. Of course, at the application layer, there is still a need to perform management and provisioning functions such as adding or removing email accounts as employees come and go. And since you are paying for the application, you need to monitor your SLA, possibly differently than today as well as manage your supplier.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)– here the hardware and OS are provided by a supplier but you provide the application – Microsoft’s Azure is an example of this cloud layer. With PaaS, the OS and hardware are primarily managed by the supplier , but you manage the application that sits on top.This layer still requires IT Pros to handle all the application management functions plus the ability to manage the platform in the cloud. 
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – here you just get the hardware provided by the supplier and you deal with the OS, application and everything above. To some degree, this is really not much different than from today in terms of the skills that IT Pros need – the key difference being where you put the hardware and how you scale it out (or not!). IT pros still need to know how to deploy the OS and the applications and manage them. Only the scale is different – you still need to patch, troubleshoot etc.

The role that the IT Professional plays in each of these layers differs, in some cases significantly, from today.  And of course, this means training needs differ too. All three layers require you to consider end-user/administration training in how to use and get the most out of the applications. PaaS and IaaS also require you to know how to develop and deploy your application solution. And finally, IaaS requires you to have broadly the same deployment skills as today since most IT Pros start their tasks once the hardware is in place.

The key first step all organisations considering the cloud need  to take is to get a good understanding of how to buy as well as deploy and manage cloud services. Organisations are being led to believe by the suppliers that the Cloud is the answer. That may be the case ultimately, but not all suppliers are equal and not all offerings are the same. So companies need to understand how to go about buying the services and then how to deploy them. For IT Pros, that deployment may be a challenge as there are new issues to consider. Deploying application to hundreds or thousands servers require you to have new automation skills than you might have needed if you just use the GUI to manage one server.

The suppliers of particularly PaaS and IaaS also need to deliver or facilitate training in their offerings. While SQL on Azure may be almost like SQL on your own server, there are differences. Also, deploying and managing larger numbers of servers will require new approaches to the tasks.

For organisations that are considering cloud computing, I’d recommend spending some time to think through just which cloud layers you are considering and the impact those have on your IT staffing. Then you should start to do some training needs analysis. The cloud offers organisations of all sizes some advantages and as Alan poitns out, IT Pros, and hence the training, will certainly adapt to fit the cloud model. But there is still some thinking and planning to be done before leaping off in to cloud-land!

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