IT jobs: Will convergence simply end up deskilling staff?

IT jobs: Will convergence simply end up deskilling staff?

Summary: In today's datacentre, the watchword is convergence. But convergence in all its guises has the potential to cause tension and the deskilling of staff.

TOPICS: Data Centers

Inside datacentres across the planet, various types of convergence are taking place. There's a convergence of technologies in the broadest sense, in that the three main technology areas are being virtualised: compute, networking and storage. This convergence should make switching disciplines easier, though whether it will remains to be seen.

There's also convergence in a more specific sense in that hardware is becoming commoditised — a generalisation of course but broadly true. For example, storage networks will eventually run on Ethernet, just like the rest of the datacentre.

Anything that makes management easier — less skilful, if you like — will be welcomed

And there's convergence because the plans of many vendors will result in bringing those three core disciplines under one roof from a management perspective.

For example, Windows Server 2012 majors on new automation and management capabilities. Network and storage vendors both talk of — and of course offer for sale — products that provide a single pane of glass that allows you to manage everything in the datacentre.

And we've figured out how to reduce downtime resulting from equipment failure. It's expected, so we route around it. Consequently, vendors talk of reducing management effort and human mistakes through automation. That's a powerful argument since outage as a result of hardware failure is now, generally speaking, less likely than finger trouble, as many high-profile outages attest.

The CIO certainly wants convergence since he or she wants to contain staffing costs, to comply with what the business demands: to do more with less. Whether it's a single pane of glass or some other process that reduces the need for human intervention, anything that makes management easier — less skilful, if you like — will be welcomed.

Extracting the best price for skills

Yet there's tension in the air. If you're a Microsoft Most Valued Professional, if you're a Cisco-certified engineer, if you're an EMC Proven Professional, what you want is to be able to maximise those skills. You want to be able to use them to the full, and to extract the best price for them — to enjoy them, in other words.

Even you might want a single pane of glass. It can make life easier, I'm told, but I'd be glad to hear of how that's true in the real world.

But does it mean the start of a deskilling process? If it's like most other jobs, then it probably does. Can the tide be held back? Should it?

Or is this all a storm in a teacup, and the likelihood of these increasingly complex technologies becoming operable by — shall we call them less well-trained folk? — is slim?

Topic: Data Centers

Manek Dubash

About Manek Dubash

Editor, journalist, analyst, presenter and blogger.

As well as blogging and writing news & features here on ZDNet, I work as a cloud analyst with STL Partners, and write for a number of other news and feature sites.

I also provide research and analysis services, video and audio production, white papers, event photography, voiceovers, event moderation, you name it...

Back story
An IT journalist for 25+ years, I worked for Ziff-Davis UK for almost 10 years on PC Magazine, reaching editor-in-chief. Before that, I worked for a number of other business & technology publications and was published in national and international titles.

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  • Progress almost always involve loss of skills

    That is why it is progress. We find easier, better and cheaper ways to do things. Obsolescence and retraining is a necessary part of this.

    Hunting/gathering and navigation skills were lost when our ancestors settled and started to farm. It has been going on ever since and will continue until the end of man.
    • I would rephrase that

      Progress means a CHANGE in required skills.
  • Deskilling...

    Isn't English a wonderful language? Take skill, and add a de-, then an -ing to add some gold stripes to the newly hatched word. Ta-Da! A new word!

    Still can't figure out the need for a CIO. Anyone who lets IT get that high in their organization needs to have their head examined. Small strike teams from a central pool of computer geeks, that's the Computer Services model. Get in, fix the problem, get out. Watch carefully for the big problems, always asking, "Why are you doing that?" rather than "How can we automate that". The fastest way to speed a process is to stop doing it.
    Tony Burzio
    • CIO is needed

      "Small strike teams from a central pool of computer geeks" is a recipe for disaster. Who takes the big picture, integrated view. One project I worked on initially proposed doing exactly that. I thought that an integrated, architected approach was better. Result: an architecture that was one third the cost and one half the time of the initial proposal. If time and effort is not important then "Small strike teams from a central pool of computer geeks" could work.
      Most business people do not even know what is possible with IT. Yes, you could eliminate the CIO if CEO, CFO, and COO had computer science degrees.
  • Used to be you had to know assembly to admin larger systems

    Or better yet, read the op codes from a dump. That skill is no longer needed.

    Most folks in the "first world" don't know how to use a choke to start a car. Or set the dwell and timing on the ignition system. All skills very useful in owning a car not too long ago.

    Times change. Stay alert or you'll be passed by.
  • Good Article: IT has always been this way....

    I retweeted this article earlier today. There has been a lot of commentary around this subject lately, including Nick Heath from TechRepublic and Cameron Laird of Real User Monitoring(

    I believe IT has always been this way.

    "By the 1950s, IT pioneers already had trouble keeping up with changing commercial practices, and the “need to learn the ins and outs of the business” has turned up with progression through service bureaus, timesharing, minicomputer adoption, the personal computer (PC) revolution, client-server architecture, the Web take-over, and all the other upheavals IT has faced." source:
  • agreed

    I saw the writing on the wall awhile back; thats why I am taking a proactive response to retool from large IT shop Senior Systems Administrator to advance into more of a development role writing and manageing the scripts/code that automate cloud systems for the de-skilled button pushers. I want to stay in the meat of IT not on the edge.
  • All The Qualifications You Mentioned Are Vendor-Specific

    It's well-known that vendor-specific qualifications have a short shelf-life. If you depend on them for your career, then it's no big surprise you'll find yourself in a corner eventually.

    Whereas if you had a better grounding in the general field of Computer Science, that equips you with knowledge of fundamental principles that still stay valid even as the technological implementations change.

    For example, your mention of "automation" as something supposedly new in Microsoft's products: any Computer Scientist knows that "automation" is just a word for what computers already do! What obscures this fact is the overemphasis on GUIs, with their canned responses to canned situations that you are supposed to learn by rote and apply repetitively. This is the sort of thing that turns users into robots, when it is the computer that should be doing all the repetitive work. And when a new situation comes along, you're stuck and have to go back for new training to learn about the new situation.

    Compare the Unix/Linux command line, with its core set of general functionality that is easily adaptable by an expert user to new situations; this leaves the human free to think, while the computer does all the repetitive work. There is a general assumption that this is "old-fashioned". Except--if that is so, why is Microsoft trying to copy it, with its unwieldy "PowerShell" system?
  • More powerful tools require more training not less

    More powerful tools allow the same work to be done by a smaller number of people but the smaller number of people have to be better trained because they must take into account all the things that the larger number of people did. Simplistic example: Data Center configuration once required one server expert, one storage expert, one communications expert, and one coordinator. Now, powerful tools allow one person to configure the same Data Center but that one person must know how to configure processing, storage, and communications.