According to Big Data Quarterly, cloud computing is fast becoming the solution of choice for data environments. South Africa is no different, and the increasing adoption of cloud technology is rapidly changing the way we manage data environments and the skills required to effectively do so. The days of a business’s IT department or partner serving their data needs are coming to an end, as business units can easily and quickly bypass IT to set up their own infrastructure in the cloud.
In many cases, separate departments of core systems administrators were needed to get a business application operational. Multiple data environments such as data backup servers, networks, storage access networks (SAN), servers, virtual environments required set, specific skills, all provided by IT. Now, cloud makes it easy for any business unit to quickly bypass IT and set up their own application infrastructure in a matter of minutes – and many do.
This begs the question: what skills are required to manage the data within these environments and where does this leave traditional IT and IS administrators?
The need for traditional administration skills
Although the cloud offers many of the day-to-day tactical functions of administrators as easy click-and-deploy features, there are many required skills that are left unaddressed, which can cause complex issues in the long run. Cloud offers the functionality and speed required for fast deployment, however, multiple disparate cloud applications can create unnecessary complexity.
The historic knowledge that traditional administration possesses, particularly around the business’s data, is still a fundamental requirement. Effective operating in the cloud requires:
- Proper planning;
- Secure and optimised cloud migration;
- Careful consideration of the design, provisioning and automation to avoid performing repeated single-threaded tasks;
- Relevant Data governance, which drives security, identity, ownership and compliance. This is particularly important considering South Africa’s looming Protection of Personal Information (PoPI) Act.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the cloud is that it enables organisations to shift their operational focus closer to their core business. Simultaneously, rather than taking away from the administration role, it gives administrators the opportunity to shift their focus from ‘doing’ to ‘designing’.
Evolution of skills
The cloud requires that traditional core day-to-day systems administration evolves into a design role that is focuses on chiefly on moving, managing and using data across all environments. This requires an understanding of data, and its role within the organisation, that administrators are geared for, allowing them to design the use of the cloud adaptively, in line with business needs.
The ability to move data to, from and between environments, and manage and use data, is vital for several reasons:
- To realise the required return on investment from the cloud and stay within budget, someone must be able to monitor, manage and control its use.
- Data governance must be maintained to avoid risk, and ensure the availability, usability, integrity and security of business data.
The cloud needs to align with business needs, and not the other way around. As the business becomes more agile and flexible, aligning cloud technology capabilities to meet business requirements means testing its limitations without forsaking agility and flexibility.
Data gaps need to be clearly understood, defined and managed. Administrators should fill those gaps with proven technologies and platforms that complement cloud capabilities, so business can enjoy cloud benefits without sacrificing on-premises risk mitigation.
From administrator to designer
The cloud allows administrators to move away from their mundane tasks such as server builds, zone changes, moving Virtual Machines (VM) across servers and monitoring backup and restore job success. With cloud, they can focus on understanding the business and its data requirements – making them more data scientists and business systems designers than administrators.
Understanding the relationship between the business and its data means that administrators can select the correct tools and even cloud platforms to meet relevant data functions. They can then apply the principles gathered from years of systems administration in an agile landscape to deliver to the business a service level that would otherwise have been too difficult or costly to achieve on-premise.
This means having the ability to select the correct compute, storage, network, security and services to meet business needs without wasting cloud resources while knowing precisely when and how to move data and workloads. It will also help ensure that the business is resilient, despite any cloud hiccups.
Cloud gives administrators the opportunity to select a cloud data management platform that focuses on reducing risks and costs associated with movement to the cloud, the ability to activate cloud data quickly for new business use cases, and the capability to provide Service Level Agreement (SLA) based data protection and management regardless of cloud provider to satisfy business governance. Administrators can truly explore this new role, shedding remedial tasks and becoming actively involved in business operational optimisation.
By Modeen Malick, Senior Systems Engineer for MESAT at Commvault