10 recession-proof IT skills

"For people with the right skills and the right attitude, this is a fantastic time to be in the data center space," says Dwight Gibbs, senior vice president of technology at Input, a Reston, Va., market intelligence firm.

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The enterprise data center has become the corporate center of attention. If you want in, here are the skills you need to have:

1. Virtualization.

A foundational technology for state-of-the-art IT infrastructures, virtualization skills almost go without saying.

Rick King, CTO at Thomson Reuters, Legal, in Eagan, Minn., puts it this way: "Today people who have spent a lot of time with virtualization technologies can pretty much work any place they want — and that will be true for some period of time, until almost all data centers are running almost everything in a virtual environment."

2. Services management.

As enterprises shift into the use of public or private cloud service providers, data center personnel need to ratchet up their service management skills, says John Ryan, the global portfolio executive responsible for platform and end user services at technology consulting firm CSC.

"It's no longer enough to know how to manage the hypervisor and workloads moving across the infrastructure. People have to shift their thinking into an environment where capacity and demand management come together. They have to be skilled in services management," he explains.

Joanne Kossuth, vice president of operations and CIO for Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., agrees. "Things like software and infrastructure as a service already exist, and some are more highly adopted than others. But five years down the line, it really will be about a combination of these things and data center folks are going to manage all that."

3. Unified computing.

"The trend today, as it will for the next three to five years, will be unified computing – look at Cisco with its Unified Computing System, HP with BladeSystem Matrix and IBM with its cloud computing strategy," says Rockwell Bonecutter, data center technology and operations lead for North America at Accenture, a technology services consulting company. "The natural assumption you can derive from that is that this will be the hot button for new skills."

As such, data center personnel of every ilk must get up to speed on unified compute concepts, principles and architecture, he says. As a result, we'll have data centers staffed by people who understand how to deliver business value and services rather than only knowing how to add more processing power or storage, for example.

4. Green IT.

Going green is a corporate mandate the world over, and that leaves many IT organizations deciding whether they need a point person for green efforts across the data center, King says. "This professional would focus on deploying green technologies — as well as steering away from deployment of non-green technologies. Because green technologies often improve operational efficiencies, such people would actually pay for themselves over and over again," he adds.

5. Resource management.

Along the same lines, the ability to finesse conversations between IT and facilities is becoming a critical skill in the data center, says David Cappuccio, managing vice president and chief of research for the infrastructure teams at Gartner. "Building a capacity plan when you don't take into account energy consumption and heat dissipation is a plan in a vacuum," he adds. "You need somebody on staff who can actually track these things, talk a facilities language and translate it back to IT." These skills are sometimes packaged in a position called resource manager or facilities liaison, Cappuccio says. 

At Citigroup, they're wrapped up into a position called data center planning and critical systems engineer, says Jim Carney, executive vice president of data center planning for the New York-based global financial services firm.

In fact, Carney says, "No data center manager I would ever hire could be blind to the facilities side of the business because it's so integral to their uptime."

6. Engineering.

At PricewaterhouseCoopers, "the hottest skills and the people who are most difficult to find are mechanical and electrical engineers who have a decent knowledge of technology and a working knowledge of current equipment and systems," says Rick Ancona, deputy U.S. CIO and CTO at PwC, a professional services firm with U.S. headquarters in New York.

"If you built a data center even three or four years ago vs. now, you're using very different concepts. Even with virtualization, that's really around electrical loads and cooling. That's the engineering complexity that having denser servers introduces," he adds.

7. Network.

Lights-out, remote data centers only work because of network technology, Citigroup's Carney says. That places networking skills at a premium. "Data center managers need to be cognizant of networks — network configurations, hardware and vulnerabilities," he says. "We need people who have really good networking expertise or a network background."

PwC, likewise, wants people who have networking prowess as it builds out its data center strategy, Ancona says.

In particular, it is looking for people in the network operations center monitor and response space, which are "critical positions that help assure the overall availability of the environment and maximize uptime," adds John Regan, director of data center services for PwC..

8. Financial analysis.

As a hiring manager, Input's Gibbs says he considers financial analysis one of the hottest skills for a data center professional. "I need people who can determine the application and technology economics based on the business economics," he says.

In other words, if an application doesn't require super high availability, a data center professional should be able to crunch the numbers to figure out whether that can go out in the cloud or should stay on dedicated hardware in the data center, Gibbs says. "The data center is very soon to become the business center," he adds. "So, if you don't understand business, then you won't be working for the business center for very long."

9. Project management.

In the same vein, the need for strong project management and business analysis skills are picking up, says Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm. With 2010 IT budgets approved, companies are starting to invest in data center projects, he says.

"I don't want to make it sound like the doors are blowing off and this is the end to the recession, but we are seeing an increase in requests for business analysts and project managers for full-time positions as well as on a project basis," Willmer says.

10. Communications.

Good people skills aren't to be downplayed, data center insiders say. "When I think of a strong data center manager, communications and people management skills are way up there," says Jill Eckhaus, president of Afcom, an association for data center professionals. "The data center world is changing at rapid speed, and being able to manage that means keeping a structured environment. And that requires communications."

Good people skills are imperative, agrees PwC's Regan. Even if data center professionals aren't communicating with the business, he says, there's a significant amount of communications required inside the IT organization.

With so many data center skills to hone, this is indeed an opportunistic time for IT professionals, says Andreas Antonopoulos, senior vice president with Nemertes Research.

"So for those out of a job, one of the things to think about is taking a new direction and really focus on the exciting things happening in IT," he says. "That's my message of hope."

Schultz is an IT editor and writer in Chicago. You can reach her at bschultz5824@gmail.com.

Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.

This story, "10 recession-proof IT skills" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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