Is Google your next data center?

Cloud computing is changing the way we think of the IT department

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"There are different degrees of progression down this [hosted services] path," says Bryan Doerr, CTO at Savvis Inc., a St. Louis-based IT infrastructure services provider. "There's a percentage of companies that don't think a virtualized solution is for them."

Careers in the Cloud

IT organizations that do shift a good part of their IT infrastructure activities to hosted services providers over the next decade will likely see profound changes in the makeup and skills of their remaining IT staffers.

"There's a limited number of resources in IT," notes Dutra. "Wouldn't I want to focus them on the most strategic areas possible?"

On the path toward utility computing, IT leaders will need to develop and attract people with transitional skills. For instance, companies that aggressively pursue hosted IT services may wind up creating software-as-a-service task forces to devise new ways of providing support to business users, says West. And as companies cobble together a mix of premise-based and hosted applications, systems integration expertise will come to the fore, whether provided by internal staff or outsourcing providers, West adds.

Once the transition is well under way, Major expects to see an increase in the number of people with vendor relationship management skills. But the people who end up filling those posts might be "super-users" and not traditional IT staffers, he says.

He adds that many IT pros with deep technical skills in areas like data center and network management will probably end up working in giant hosted data centers.

Futurist May agrees. "I think the human capital flow is going to change" over the next decade, he says.

He predicts that many young IT workers will spend the first 10 years of their careers working for managed services providers and then move into middle and senior IT management positions in corporate IT. "You're basically going to get your technology chops inside the belly of the outsourcing beast and some subset of these people will migrate over to their customers," he says.

Nevertheless, large companies will still need to have IT organizations that are "very deep in the business -- people who have vendor relationship management skills, who can help the [service provider] or outsourcer to understand how to facilitate the business," says Robert Keefe, CIO at Mueller Water Products Inc.

To play that role, IT staffers will have to improve their vendor negotiation skills, says Roni Krisavage, CIO at World Wrestling Entertainment.

Even companies that outsource the bulk of their IT infrastructure support will still need in-house technical experts who understand how everything fits together and works, says the Georgia Aquarium's Clark.

And since most hosted services will be accessed using Web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, "somebody in the [customer] company will have to deal with that in a technical fashion," says Dutra.

What stays inside

There are other IT activities that will remain in-house as well. These include data management and business intelligence-related functions, says May.

Moreover, says Keefe, "You're always going to have some things [in IT] that need to be looked after, nuances and pieces of technology that continue to change."

For example, IT organizations are likely to retain project portfolio management, including people who are adept at sourcing and staffing project teams, says Chris Barbin, co-founder and CEO of Appirio Inc., a San Mateo, Calif.-based provider of products and services for hosted environments such as Salesforce.com and Google Enterprise.

"For me, it's my revenue-generating and customer-facing systems" that will remain in-house, says Aspen Ski's Major.

He cites a few reasons for this, including a current dearth of vendors that provide hosted application services for these particular disciplines. Even when players do emerge in those spaces, says Major, "they're going to have to come to me and explain why this is a great idea for me."

The evolving CIO

As a greater proportion of IT activities is handled externally, CIOs will see their roles continue to morph, though exactly how is uncertain.

"I think the technical CIOs are going to migrate over to these hosted companies" while CIOs who are more business-focused will continue to work alongside their business peers within customer companies, says Keefe.

Coty's Malangone foresees considerably more dramatic changes ahead for IT leaders. "What I think you'll see is the CIO role dissolving" while IT directors increasingly work one-on-one with divisional business leaders, he says.

If he's right, that kind of change will likely take years to play out. In the meantime, many enterprises will likely test the hosted services waters first before diving in headlong.

"I don't think the on-premise [software] business is going away overnight and I don't think it's ever going away," says Google's Glotzbach. "If we've learned anything in IT over the past 20 years, it's that nothing ever goes away completely."

Got something to add? Let us know in the article comments.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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