As more companies build their businesses around software, network and data-center pros will also be looking toward software to optimize their skills.
While software may not be the first thing to come to mind when dealing with data centers, IT industry watchers say experienced network and infrastructure professionals would be wise to up their code game. Popular technology trends such as public, private and hybrid cloud, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning will prompt network and data center pros to invest their training time and dollars in better understanding the software side of the IT house.
“Programmers that also fully understand the plumbing, the network, that is precisely what is needed going forward,” says Dr. James Stanger, chief technology evangelist at CompTIA., a nonprofit IT training and certification organization. “We are seeing companies struggle to find people that know the networking side of technology and they also need networkers that grasp the programming and can stitch solutions together.”
So how exactly will software start to play a bigger role in network pros’ daily work? For some, roles around DevOps (development and IT operations) could emerge, and for others, understanding how to prioritize network traffic across private and public clouds will become critical to IT’s success. And others will need to learn enough about coding to automate tasks that have been traditionally performed manually by systems administrators.
Infrastructure as code
For too long, the hardware and software roles in IT remained separate. Now the lines are blurring, and for those building and managing infrastructure, software will ease the manual work involved with maintaining exponentially more systems—virtual and physical.
“The concept of just administering a piece of hardware and tweaking individual attributes is going away. ‘Infrastructure as code’ is bleeding the edges of what is infrastructure and what is software,” says Klavs Miller, CTO of DHI Group, Inc. “People that can make this transition—develop some coding skills with a passion for the network—will become invaluable to their employers.”
The premise of incorporating development know-how with operations skills isn’t new and often falls under the umbrella of DevOps, a process methodology that encompasses software development and IT operations teams working more closely together from design to production. The benefits are said to include software that works better and as expected on the production network because the operations team shared insights with developers.
“Hiring managers are looking for more lateral thinking, a skilled technologist that can work well with different teams. Network professionals will have to draw from a larger palette of resources such as DevOps, cloud, security, IoT, AI and more,” CompTIA’s Stanger says.
All around data-center skills in demand
Data center pros that take advantage of software to scale and optimize their environments will see success in the coming months. And the role of simply monitoring servers in a data center might not exist because it will evolve into another role that incorporates software coding skills to automate systems management.
This trend extends to tasks typically associated with facilities management in technical environment as well. Skills including power management, heating and cooling management, and other environment-type skills are becoming incorporated into data-center management roles.
“Data centers are set up to be about the size of a city block, and hiring managers are actually speaking to people with experience on submarines to understand how to manage the technology and the resources,” CompTIA’s Stanger says. “These professionals need to be able to look at a bank of switches and routers and recognize a problem and then take the necessary action. They need to create an environment right for the machines and also understand how those machines are operating for the business.”
Are you cloud-ready?
Network and data center professionals looking to boost their salaries and impress the C-suite should be looking to the cloud for their next big career opportunity.
According to Robert Half Technology, cloud computing is the top area employers are currently training their IT teams on, followed by security, project management, data science and machine learning/artificial intelligence. Their report, based on responses from more than 2,800 IT decision makers in 28 major U.S. markets, shows cloud dominates three of the top five most in demand skills for the coming year.
“Realistically, anything that is making sure the data center is cloud-ready is where the demand is. Some of the real struggle we are seeing is with finding talented people around cloud,” says Jim Johnson, Senior Vice President, Robert Half Technology. “If you have exposure with cloud readiness, cloud migration or cloud management, then you will be in demand.”
Whether it be around public, private or some hybrid of the two, cloud computing is now a mainstream trend that most companies are exploring and implementing. And that means they need someone on staff that understands the many facets of cloud and how it can benefit their business. However, 87 percent of those surveyed by Robert Half Technology said it's challenging for their company to find skilled IT professionals.
When considering cloud, security is also top of mind. As data breaches become more frequent, more companies want to be sure to invest in technologies to prevent a devastating, public attack. According to Robert Half Technology’s Johnson, companies are looking for professionals who understand app security, Web security and data security.
“If a company has a Web presence and customers interact with them on the Web, there is a risk for data privacy,” Johnson says. “Companies know that being hacked can be devastating, but they also know there are great efficiencies to be gained with cloud so there needs to be effective cloud security.”
Secure network segmentation
Network professionals aren’t only be tasked with learning more about development, they are also expected to incorporate secure-thinking into their network planning.
“The benefits of combining network and security are great. If you design and implement a network with security in mind, it is that much easier to deal with security issues if they arise,” says DHI Group’s Miller. “The equivalent is avoiding security issues as opposed to fixing them.”
Network specialists can be instrumental in keeping their business and its customers’ data secure, experts say. For instance, network segmentation can create more secure zones for more sensitive data and apps to reside and traverse the network. This type of design-thinking can also help customers who have multiple clients tapping cloud services by create separate environments in which the data, apps and traffic primarily reside.
Another network-specific security skill is traffic scrubbing. This quality of service prioritization puts filters in place to find offensive traffic, mitigate it and protect the remaining network without losing access to the Internet, CompTIA’s Stanger explains. Network professionals are being tasked by their CIOs to fulfill security roles in part due to trends such as IoT and cloud. Another factor only network managers could understand is the impending reality of IPv6.
“Network pros who only understand IPv4 are increasingly running into trouble. If they do not understand IPv6, network troubleshooting will be a black box to them,” Stanger says. But larger shifts on the technology horizon in 2019 will drive more demand for network professionals.
“Consider moving to the cloud—much more of the data center is not inside the network perimeter anymore. And if your data or your customers’ data is in the data center, you better have a really good, high-performing and secure network pipe to get there,” he says.