How IT Can Remain Relevant In A Cloud World

How will cloud computing alter the role of today’s IT professional? Will IT as we know it disappear altogether or will IT pros remain in high demand with increased cloud adoption? To be sure, cloud computing is fundamentally changing how businesses consume technology, however, in many instances IT’s role will be more essential to the health of the business than ever before.

Those IT pro’s that can jockey between managing traditional data center and cloud based IT infrastructure technology, while providing ongoing guidance on where businesses can leverage cloud resources to gain a competitive advantage, will continue to be highly sought after. One of the keys, however, is for today’s IT pros to first help their organizations identify and mitigate risk as they start consuming cloud services.

Hybrid Cloud Efficiency

Many businesses are stepping into cloud technology by taking a hybrid approach. This typically consists of a blend of on premises computing with some business services deployed into the cloud. For example, many organizations prefer to maintain on premises command and control of core business applications while deploying non-critical business services, like backup and DR, into the cloud. In fact, the cloud backup use case is becoming increasingly popular due to the ever decreasing costs of cloud storage, combined with the efficiencies of leveraging multi-tenant cloud infrastructure to eliminate the large capital expense required to build out dedicated DR facilities.

IT Cloud Validation

But adopting public clouds for just backup and DR still requires a certain “leap of faith”. In other words, businesses have to entrust the CSP to safeguard their data and be just as responsive (or faster) to a data recovery event as onsite IT personnel would be. This is where experienced IT pros can be an invaluable asset. In addition to helping scope the requirements for storing data at the CSP (capacity, bandwidth, data retention) prior to a cloud deployment, IT pros can perform ongoing validation testing to ensure that the CSP is in compliance with service level agreements (SLAs). For example, by performing periodic data restores from data stored in the cloud, IT administrators can prove whether business recovery point objectives (RPOs – how recent the backup copy is) are being met or not.

Orchestrated Recovery

In addition to validating that CSPs are meeting SLAs, a seasoned IT administrator can also help facilitate critical data recoveries. Many CSPs tout self-service recoverability, which in the case of an individual file or folder level recovery may be relatively simple and straightforward. But what if a mission-critical database fails? Who will be on hand to orchestrate the recovery – especially if the recovery originates in the cloud and there is total reliance on the provider to drop everything and focus on your problem? Some of these issues can be mitigated through negotiating the right service contracts/SLAs with the provider, however, there is no substitute for having a dedicated IT pro that is focused on the needs of your business on a full-time basis.

Some organizations may also want to maintain a “backup of the backup” on premises. That way if there is some issue recovering data at the CSP, the local IT administrator can spring into action and conduct a local recovery from tape or some low cost disk repository. While not ideal, it is at least a safety valve for recovering data in the event of an unforeseen circumstance, like an extended CSP data center outage.

SaaS Data Protection Management

Similarly, with the widespread adoption of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications like Salesforce.com and Google Apps, businesses need a way to ensure that their cloud based information assets are continually safeguarded. SaaS providers typically do not provide the type of data protection services that businesses require to recover from data loss events. And if a data restore request is made, it can take days before the information is restored (if not longer) and result in large fees from the provider.

Consequently, organizations need backup software tools that can integrate with these SaaS applications to protect data on a daily basis. As we have covered in past briefing notes and articles, companies like Asigra and Spanning Tree are examples of backup application providers that can provide this type of coverage. But these tools can’t run on autopilot. They need experienced IT personnel to implement and manage.

Strategic Cloud Deployment

While ensuring that business data remains protected is important, IT pros can also increase their value by identifying how to exploit the cloud for competitive business advantage. Technologies like server virtualization have enabled businesses to increase their agility in terms of how rapidly they can spin up new business services to meet new market opportunities.

There may be instances where it will be faster and more cost effective to leverage public cloud based computing resources to deploy new applications rather than relying on resources in-house. For example, a seasonal retailer that is anticipating a surge in sales by last minute Christmas shoppers may want to spin-up a couple of dozen additional front-end web servers to meet this temporary demand. IT Cloud architects can help enable this capability to “turn-on and turn-off” these resources in the cloud so that businesses can capitalize on real-time market opportunities on-demand. IT pros can use tools like HotLink’s Hybrid Express Solution to seamlessly move virtual machines between VMware, Hyper-V and Amazon EC2 instances.

And when businesses are ready to start more aggressively consuming cloud resources, IT will serve as the liaison between business application owners and the CSP. In addition to scoping out the requirements and helping to design the required cloud infrastructure solution, IT personnel can perform validation testing to ensure that the back-end infrastructure in the cloud is adequately sized and configured to handle production workloads. In fact, tools like the Load DynamIX validation appliances can be deployed on premises as a physical appliance or in the cloud as a virtual appliance to perform storage IO validation testing. By using this appliance, IT can quickly scope out the storage IO required to support cloud based applications before they are deployed into production – helping to ensure application quality-of-service.

Conclusion

Even if an organization deploys all their business applications into the cloud, there will still be a need for people with IT expertise to independently verify, validate and work with CSPs to ensure that business SLAs are consistently being met and critical business information assets are protected. As the lines between traditional datacenter and cloud computing continue to blur and meld together, IT pros can help their organizations navigate the right path for maximum business advantage and increase their personal value to the organization.

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As a 22 year IT veteran, Colm has worked in a variety of capacities ranging from technical support of critical OLTP environments to consultative sales and marketing for system integrators and manufacturers. His focus in the enterprise storage, backup and disaster recovery solutions space extends from mainframe and distributed computing environments across a wide range of industries.

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