Will cloud adoption bring about a datacenter and IT job apocalypse?

Moderated by Larry Dignan | July 15, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: Jason Perlow and David Gewirtz look at clouds -- and IT jobs -- from both sides now.

Jason Perlow

Jason Perlow

Yes

or

No

David Gewirtz

David Gewirtz

Best Argument: Yes

31%
69%

Audience Favored: No (69%)

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Welcome

    It's time for this week's Great Debate.

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Ready here

    I'm set to go.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Me too

    Let's get it on.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Fewer jobs?

    Recent layoffs in the tech industry have highlighted how those IT pros working on physical data center infrastructure could be automated out of the job market. Is this trend unavoidable over the next five years?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    It's unavoidable

    For the most part it is unavoidable, as the primary driver behind cloud computing is the overall desire of large organizations to reduce IT spend in physical assets, software licenses and human resources. The problem is understanding the scale of of what that displacement will be, which is difficult to quantify at this point as we are in the early stages of the cloud adoption buying cycle.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    There are still needs

    The trend is far from unavoidable. Data centers are changing, true, but those changes don't happen by themselves. The cloud is allowing some companies to jettison their on-premises gear, but there will still be a need for IT pros to work with and coordinate with public cloud providers. Some companies will retool their data centers into a private cloud architecture, providing some of the same services to their internal customers as public clouds provide -- and all those installations will also require IT pros.

    In addition, and especially over the next five years, the migration process itself will require many seasoned IT professionals. So there will be additional opportunities there, as well.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Zero growth?

    Will the cloud eliminate as many jobs as it creates?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Infrastructure is key

    All of this depends on how much infrastructure moves to the cloud and what kinds of organizations take to it. SMBs are likely to move first, as they have smaller IT departments and are woefully understaffed to begin with, so those are probably going to be a wash.

    The real test will be when the largest corporations start thinking about eliminating infrastructure in favor of a hybridized cloud solution where some of the infrastructure resides on premises -- perhaps as low as twenty percent, and the balance of it lives in the cloud. The ratio that each organization determines best suits them is also going to determine the amount of the displacement.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Job needs change

    Possibly. Technology trends give and technology trends take away. There may be fewer jobs lugging and plugging, but more jobs configuring and programming. The point, as always, is that you need to keep your skills up to date. There was a time, back in the 1990s, when the world was filled with cc:Mail professionals. But that technology gave way to Domino and Exchange, and those professionals who stayed in the game augmented their legacy skills with knowledge of new systems.

    This same will happen now. The more you learn, the more you're willing to be flexible, the more secure you will be. If you expect that nothing will ever change and you don't have to either, then you will be at risk. But that's an inadvisable strategy in any industry.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Targets

    What jobs are most threatened by the cloud?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Rank and File

    I think that the rank and file system administrator and network infrastructure person is most at risk. Also probably any teams dealing with PC support, especially once technologies such as Desktop as a Service (DaaS) become more commonplace.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    No set list

    That's kind of a leading question for my opponent's case. That said, a big concern domestically is that cloud operators are buying fewer pre-built servers from the traditional big server vendors and are, instead, sourcing components from offshore suppliers and building their own custom server modules. As a result, the big server vendors (like Jason's example: IBM) will feel a hit.

    But even they can keep their markets if they're willing to be flexible and innovate. For example, if they partner with their customers, get involved with innovative programs like Facebook's open server initiative, and refine their offerings to meet today's demands, they'll still do well. Let's not forget that IBM has been around for a very long time and has thrived.

    Look, some unfortunate people will lose jobs through no fault of their own. Our industry can sometimes be brutal to individuals and families. But that's not new to the cloud. That's the way the changing, cyclical tech business has been since the days of Hollerith.

    Fundamentally, there's no set list of individual job titles that we can say are most threatened. It's really a question of knowledge and skill acquisition. Those workers most threatened are those unwilling to change with the times. Ain't nothing new about that.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Technology buying cycle

    Will these employees make any contribution to the technology buying cycle? How so?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Works from the top down

    Unlikely. The technology buying cycle right now is almost entirely driven by CFOs which are putting heavy constraints on the CIOs. That's what I've been hearing top down from every single large organization that I've dealt with in the last two years and I expect that to be even more so in the future.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Absolutely

    Whether we're looking at server replacement, virtualization, private cloud build-outs, public cloud build-outs, innovative data center energy and cooling management practices, or the entire explosive healthcare IT market -- there will be a never-ending stream of research, evaluation, recommendation, pilot installation, and implementation.

    Even the decision-making process between adopting cloud services will require IT professional involvement. Which is a better fit for your organization's needs? Office 365 or Google Apps? Which is a better application engine? AWS or Google's engine?

    All of these things require the skills (and wisdom of experience) from seasoned IT pros.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The best jobs

    What jobs will be most coveted as cloud computing is adopted?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Senior Engineering roles, Architects and Developers

    Any job that deals with architecting, implementing and managing cloud stacks and the virtual infrastructure that sits beneath it, whether they are on-prem, hybrid or totally off-prem. Cloud security and cloud storage experts. SaaS transition/software migration types of folks who understand how to move a legacy system with complex multi-tier apps to a hybrid or off-prem model. Also, application developers and software lifecycle management types will continue to play an important role and will most likely be the group that is least affected by the transition because app delivery is the cloud's primary focus.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Wants and needs

    Well, personally, I think the best job in the world is that of ZDNet blogger. But this question can be answered in two ways: what jobs do people most want, and what types of employees will employers be looking for?

    For the first, as has always been the case, employees are looking for solid, good-paying, reliable jobs with good benefits. They're likely to be in all aspects of IT, from programming to maintenance to systems engineering, to all of the support jobs that are involved in constructing and operating data centers.

    From the enterprise perspective, though, cheaper is better. A big issue is cost containment, and all those health benefits add up. So expect to see more and more employee leasing. The good news from the individual contributor perspective is that if you hook up with a good employee leasing service and one gig goes away, another is right around the corner.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    How bad will it be?

    What percentage of IT workers derailed by the cloud do you think will retool for other uses?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Data center facing people are at extreme risk

    It's hard to figure out the percentages because it all depends on the amount of people supporting and administrating physical infrastructure in a particular organization. Anyone who is directly datacenter facing is going to be at extreme risk and needs to re-educate themselves. Infrastructure architect or enterprise architect types are probably safe, but they need to keep their skills up to date.

    The most skilled Cisco/network infrastructure and storage people will still have many opportunities but they may have to end up changing employers to those that are actually Cloud providers themselves as the balance of private datacenter infrastructure is eliminated. Sysadmins are a big unknown here because tremendous advances are being made in provisioning and automation, and I expect that group to take a big hit.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    It won't happen

    This question presupposes that many IT workers will be derailed by the cloud, which is a premise I'm not prepared to concede.

    However, for the purpose of this question, it's almost impossible to give exact numbers. Even the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the gold standard for these sorts of numbers, has a tendency to miss entire swaths of the population (i.e., very small businesses and self-employed) because they're not part of the statistical baseline defined almost half a century ago.

    Let's keep in mind that many who work in IT are not network engineers. There are many construction workers, electricians, administrative workers, and so forth. Those people will go where their job descriptions take them, regardless of whether it's IT or not.

    Those trained technical professionals who lose their jobs will simply look elsewhere. As with every tech cycle, some will drop out of the tech business (my favorite motorcycle builder was a former systems engineer). Others will learn other related skills, seek other related certifications, and update their knowledge of current technology. Two big areas begging for IT pros are health and security.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Effect on larbor arbitrage

    How will employment in labor arbitrage areas such as India be affected by cloud computing?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Outsourcing reversal

    I think based on what we have seen with IBM's most recent resource actions we can expect the mass outsourcing of the 2000's to be largely undone by the end of this decade. And due to recent security concerns that have come to light, it is far less likely that employers will want foreign nationals having access to remote systems with large amounts of Personally Identifying Information (PII) on it.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Tide is turning

    This is an interesting thing. Cloud computing with giants like Amazon and Google is having an impact on the outsourcing rush of the early oughts. These companies are building huge data centers here in the U.S. and need local tradespeople to keep up with the construction needs.

    What's neat about India is that it's beginning to move away from just an outsource economy and is starting to create its own unique intellectual property. One great example is Zoho, a company that competes against Google. Zoho hires programmers from local high schools and trains them internally, and has been building up some amazingly good products.

    This actually shows two benefits: fewer jobs from the U.S. going overseas in this sector, and home-grown innovation being built in nations like India.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Safe haven

    What IT job roles are impossible to automate?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Decision Makers, Software Development, Physical Infrastructure & Facilities Management

    Any job which needs to make the kinds of decisions which relate to adapting to the speed of the business itself, and also as I said before, software development. You also can't automate people that have to touch physical infrastructure and manage facilities, but as I said, there will be fewer of those kinds of people needed.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Take your pick

    Any job which needs to make the kinds of decisions which relate to adapting to the speed of the business itself, and also as I said before, software development. You also can't automate people that have to touch physical infrastructure, but as I said, there will be fewer of those kinds of people needed.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Retraining

    Do you think the tech sector owes it to affected employees to retrain them for other tasks? For instance, can database admins become data scientists? Could a network admin move to more of an architecture role?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Question of skills

    The problem with this sort of thing is that not everyone has the personality or wherewithal to make these sort of changes, which is coupled with a fundamental skills acquisition and subject matter expertise issue.

    I believe there are logical tracks certain types of IT professions and practitioners can move along, but jumping tracks can be difficult from a skills adaptation perspective, and there is also the issue of experience and how long it takes to acquire the skills. A sysadmin or an integration specialist could become an architect but for example, it took me 10 years to do that myself.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Don't miss opportunities

    The "tech sector" doesn't owe anything to anyone. But it would be foolish to squander bright and dedicated employees. Certainly database admins can become data scientists and network admins can move to more of an architecture role.

    Smart companies will offer continuing education benefits to their existing employees. Remember, a good hire isn't just about finding someone with a skill on a LinkedIn resume. A good employee has a combination of three important attributes: attitude and fit with company culture, awareness of the unique elements of the company (who runs what project, how to use the CMS, what customers like and don't like, etc), and specific skill knowledge.

    It's much, much harder to bring in a new person and be sure there is a fit than train up a new skill in an existing employee. Of course, this puts some responsibility on the worker: you've got to be a good team player to start with, and you have to be willing and able to always learn new things. But if you weren't already willing to do those two things, you wouldn't be in IT, now would you?

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Collateral damage

    What do you see as some of the derivative job hits from cloud computing? For instance, will server sales jobs disappear?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Server hardware industry

    I think the server hardware industry is clearly feeling the crunch already, and if enterprise-class equipment is mostly going to be owned by cloud providers in the future, then clearly we can see where the derivative effects are and there are too many types of job roles to count that fit into just this one bucket.

    In addition to the hardware decline we also have to look at things like subscription-based software models contributing to the overall displacement of resellers and VARs, although partner relationships will probably mature to more of a broker-based model as they will want to continue to control the billing relationship.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Server makers

    Server sales will certainly change, but there will never be a lack of sales jobs. Sales is probably the single most important gig from a company continuity point of view (no sales, no income, no income, no paychecks for everyone else). So even if one sector loses sales jobs, if you're good at making calls, following up, solving problems, listening, and developing good product and service knowledge, there will always be a job for you.

    But makers of servers may find their businesses upset. That's where Jason's reference for IBM fits. Server makers have historically seen large data centers as ideal volume sales opportunities that constitute their main bread and butter. But many cloud operators are now so big that they're doing their own internal product and server development to keep costs down.

    Here's the key: if you can provide a better, more cost-effective, more flexible solution, even those opportunities will continue. But if you insist on selling buggy whips in a muscle car world, your market will shrink. It's not about the cloud killing things, it's about learning to be flexible and responsive.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Migration to business folks

    Does the cloud mean that many technology roles can be handled by more generalists, or line of business folks?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Compression effect

    I think savvy generalists as well as LOB people will continue to be extremely valuable as will SMEs for specific types of apps and workloads, but what we are ultimately seeing is a mass compression effect where we don't need as many of types of people in all of the traditional roles.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    No, IT jobs are just changing up

    Some, certainly. Back in 2005, I offloaded operating our LAN-based accounting system to QuickBooks. From then on, my bookkeeper could call Intuit for support, not me. That, however, didn't lose me a gig. It freed up time so I could focus on activities that were a better use of time.

    Setting up email can be relatively easy for a line-of-business person by signing up for Gmail or Office 365. Moving 2 million messages from one email server to another isn't so easy and an IT professional is probably required (or very good research and evaluation skills, which are essential attributes of good IT pros).

    But here's the thing: cloud support is terrible. Long hold times, incomprehensibly annoying hold music, run-arounds from department to department. That might be fine if you never have anything that's mission-critical, but if your entire business relies on a cloud service and you're spending a week trying to convince the basic tier service people (when they answer) to connect you with someone with a clue, you'll suddenly realize there's a dark side to the cloud and wish you had an IT pro to call on.

    Fact is, IT jobs aren't going away. They're just changing up. There will always be a need for someone to "just make it work" when the generalists are busy "taking lunch" with their next expense-account client. A few bad cloud experiences and suddenly IT pros will be all the rage again.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Pros at risk

    What advice would you give to an IT pro at risk due to cloud computing?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Get some new skills

    Get thee some new skills. Quickly. Learn Azure, learn AWS, start familiarizing yourself with the various vendor private cloud stacks and public cloud offerings.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Steps to take

    First: learn to code. If you don't know how to program, you need to learn. While much programming is going offshore, good programming skills always augment good IT skills, especially in a world that may offload easy tasks to cloud providers but need IT pros to build the business-specific solutions that give a competitive advantage.

    Second: always keep your skills up. Don't just be a [fill-in-the-blank] guy. If you're a Lotus expert, learn Microsoft technologies. If you're a Microsoft pro, be sure to get some solid grounding in Linux server management. Always learn.

    Third: read ZDNet and other tech sites. We're constantly discussing and ripping apart the latest news and trends and if you want to be ahead of your peers in knowing about trends, keeping up with the trade press is a great way to do it.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    How will it affect your career?

    Last question. How do you see the cloud affecting your career path over time? Does it help or hurt?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    I've had to adapt and transform myself

    Wow, what a pointed question! I'm assuming you're directing this to me personally rather than as a generic question to all IT pros. 
     
    I am now, at this time, employed as a cloud SME and strategist at a software company that has re-invented itself as a devices and services company. I am intimately involved in helping our partners in the hosting and provider industry in assisting their own customers make the transition from a datacenter-oriented to a hybridized infrastructure.
     
    At the moment I'm on the beachfront of getting these stacks implemented. I think I can say that it has already drastically affected my career path, as I went from datacenter optimization expert to cloud SME in the course of a year. So I certainly understand what being agile means. I would like to think that the experience will empower me to help more and more organizations make the same kinds of transitions, in the most painless way possible.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Adopt the system

    Well, for me personally, it rocks. But I've got a rather unusual career. I've been fortunate enough to have transitioned my career from 20 years of running software and online publishing companies to an environment where my days are spent advising, writing, and teaching. I teach at UC Berkeley using a cloud-based education system. I teach here at CBSi using a cloud-based webcasting system. I publish my blogs here at ZDNet using a cloud-based CMS.

    For me, as a small-business owner who was also the lead technical person, I found I had to do a lot of home-grown IT work and programming to give my company a unique advantage (that's what led to my DIY-IT column here at ZDNet). But doing all that systems engineering took time away from other areas where I could also add unique value as a manager and leader.

    I used to run both my own mail server and my own accounting server. I even wrote the CRM system we used for years and a CMS that's still feeding our archives to readers all over the world. So whenever I can externalize a process, or another organization can do better or more effectively than I can, I jump at it. QuickBooks Online and Office 365 are ideal examples.

    And now, of course, I get to meet all the most interesting developers, talk to leaders of the world's most innovative companies, explore the newest trends in IT, and then interpret, analyze, and explain them to others.

    For me, the cloud has been fabulous. But then again, I love my work and, for me, it's best job in the world. Your mileage may vary.

    David Gewirtz

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks

    You'll agree that our debaters did a fine job today. The upcoming schedule for the Great Debate is closing statements on Wednesday and my choice for the winner on Thursday.

    I'm sure you'll enjoy reading the comments already posted and invite you to post your own opinion and vote for a winner. We'll see you next week.

    Posted by Larry Dignan

Talkback

18 comments
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  • Dave, of course

    I vote with Dave and 'no'. Stop whining and belt up; learn new skills. The days of lifetime employment with one company ended quite a while back; so too are the 'do one thing for an entire career'. IT is a growing field; but you still have to do your homework and be flexible.
    beau parisi
    Reply 1 Vote I'm for No
  • New Skills, Jobs Move

    Overall, a move to the cloud will probably result in at a minimum the same number of jobs overall. The issues are the skills required and the job locations. On the skills, the problem will be what new skills and difficult will they be to obtain. The job location is probably a bigger issue since the server farms do not need to near the users will many of the jobs migrate to other countries or will they reamain in the country.
    Linux_Lurker
    Reply Vote I'm for No
  • Agreed with Dave here

    If anything, it'll required more higher skilled IT personnel then less. In the 'new data center', you'll need higher skillsets ppl. Outside of the data center, you'll need more IT 'sales consultants' that can explain to the prospective new customers. Same for both in house and outside people to help transition as well as maintain both the new and the old application stacks on the new+old infrastructure.
    tkchan007
    Reply Vote I'm for No
  • Would've been a nice debate in 2006.

    Would've been a nice debate around 2006, when the term really took off.

    Not so interesting in 2013, when it's obvious that "the cloud" is creeping up slowly, rather than happening all at once. Jason can talk all he wants, but it only happens as fast as businesses are willing to adopt it. You can't really force it on them.

    And yes, there will be jobs. Users will still struggle with their devices, and businesses will still want tailored solutions. Not to mention you can't really "cloudify" everything. "The cloud" certainly has its benefits, but it also has its drawbacks.

    "and someone has to fix it when the programmers, who should have been paying better attention, instead got distracted for a week by a new release of Halo or a new Game of Thrones."

    HEY!

    Take that back!

    I'm looking forward to Star Citizen ;).
    CobraA1
    Reply Vote I'm for No
  • No

    I have had to learn new programming languages every years since 1956. I don't expect this to change.
    wdlists9
    Reply 1 Vote I'm for No
  • Fewer Locations

    There will undoubtedly be new jobs, but in addition to being more specialized, they will be consolidated at fewer locations, and farther from population centers AND from one another. This will restrict the mobility of their technical workers, locking them into areas with only ONE employer nearby that can use their skills. Unlike Silicon Valley where workers could switch companies and work next door to their old jobs, companies will force their existing workers to move to a small, rural town to keep their existing jobs, then force them to move again if they want to work for a competitor. This will bring technical wages and benefits down, since relocation can be so expensive.

    And this is assuming that the new locations are not in third world or emerging countries, where American citizens would be unable to follow their old job since the country holding the new work site will insist on reserving jobs in THEIR country for THEIR citizens.
    jallan32
    Reply 2 Votes I'm for Yes
    • As long as there are more jobs than skilled IT professionals, ...

      ... I'd expect salaried to continue to rise. You can learn a new programming language at the local junior college but learning how all the parts fit together takes years of experience. Many IT professionals are Baby Boomers and they are beginning to retire. As they are replaced, the demand for experienced IT professionals will only increase.
      M Wagner
      Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
    • Unlikely...

      Those small, rural towns don't have robust power infrastructure, fiber optic, etc.

      More importantly, they don't have universities. The knowledge workers aren't going to spring from the ground like weeds. Look at "Research Triangle" and lots of other areas that tried to steal Silicon Valley's thunder, and it's only Dallas that's made a big dent. And it's for the same reason, tech schools.
      rtechie
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • I agree with Rtechie above.

        In my corner of the US. Although I am on Comcast best consumer Cable Internet. I have to unplug modem and plug back in to reset the connection, up to 5 times a day in summer time and at least once a day in the dead of winter. I've replaced the modem three times. Our town never heard of Fiber (Fibre) Optic and DSL is delived over Copper. I can't even sign up for either MS cloud based Office 365. Nor Adobe Creative Cloud because I don't have a dependable enough Internet connection for those to Phone home. with the ability to Phone home the not dependable They would be expensive paperweight.

        Plus knowing the way Companies are today about shipping jobs overseas I predict when it gets fully up and running they will be moved to India, China, Mexico, South America and other parts of the world where they can pay semi-skilled workers 5¢ on the dollar.
        The big corporate is all about forking over as much money as possible to the eir Officers and BOD. And care nothing about customers. And will continue to bring our ecconomy down to where people can't afford the products then they will go out of business.
        pjones
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
        • Data integrity - security - in the cloud worries me.

          (Can't touch wdlist's record, I've only been in IT for 45 years...)

          A problem I've seen in Cloud-based services, particularly those that keep your sensitive data, is that back-to-back contracts against non-disclosure sound really good when negotiating for services, but in practice are only as secure as the geography where the Cloud sits.

          In many countries, even with an excellent skills and infrastructure pool, your security may be still limited by a local culture that considers your data to be a resource they can mine and sell to others. Some are good, but some are unpardonably corrupt.

          I suspect local hosting firms may be the better option. After all, isn't that all the Cloud really is? A host provider over the net?

          The Cloud is a marketing invention to cover just another infrastructure pendulum-swing to centralized service providers. You still have to be careful where you hide your lunch.
          NefariousWheel
          Reply Vote I'm Undecided