Is Your IT Job Safe in the Cloud?

Cisco is the latest company to release customer research into cloud computing trends, and only an average of 18 percent of respondents worldwide said they are using the cloud in any capacity.

However, the outlook is better, as 88 percent said they planned to take up the cloud in some capacity within three years, in the Cisco survey released in December.

The world is full of good intentions, of course, and surveys tend to be optimistic. That's why companies pay to have them done.

One question almost certainly omitted is whether IT staff fear for their jobs in a cloud-based world. The survey listed data security as a chief data center concern, as is typical, but is a different kind of security the real blockage--job security?

From a personal employment perspective, the cloud has arrived at the wrong moment: it's hardly a buoyant job market out there, and people value their positions. We're far less inclined than we might have been 10 years ago to take risks by redefining our roles and churning up the IT landscape.

Tech support tends to split into two areas, at least for smaller organizations: the grunt work of helping end-users ("Why can't I log on?"), and higher-level work maintaining infrastructure. There are also tasks such as purchasing new resources and training, but in smaller organizations these tend to come up occasionally.

If a business were to switch to a complete cloud offering such as Google Apps for Business, a significant part of the infrastructure duties are seemingly eradicated. And that could mean layoffs. There's no need to maintain an e-mail server, for example, or a file server, because all the data is held on Google's cloud.

From a desktop perspective, there's no need to oversee as much software licensing, or ensure systems are patched regularly. All a user needs in the cloud universe is an operating system and a browser. Users could even work from home now that there are no restrictions on software--and no need to ensure that home PCs run the latest version of Microsoft Office, for example.

Somebody would have to oversee the transition to Google Apps, of course, but that's the kind of once-only tasks that outside consultants excel at; everything from cost analysis, to training. The poor old IT employees could be sitting on the sidelines throughout.

Of course, the cloud presents as many opportunities as it does redundancies. It's the same old IT. Just different. We're moving into a pluralistic computing world, for example, where each user will have typically two or more IT devices, such as laptops, mobile phones, and tablets. This is what's driving the cloud, but somebody will have to oversee the purchase and setup of that hardware, especially if regulations must be adhered to. Essentially, the amount of help each employee demands from IT is set to grow significantly.

In terms of infrastructure, cloud computing makes your Internet pipeline the single most important element of your IT setup. Workers can't work without it. You might not spend time setting up servers or editing e-mail config files, but you will spend time fiddling with routers and gateways, and setting up redundant connections.

The cloud doesn't magically fix user incompetence. There'll still be people who can't log in since they ran that funny animated .exe file. The familiar 9am crazy hour won't go away.

Cloud computing might even create new opportunities. Take backup, for example. While at one time businesses held their data onsite and backed it up online, the inverse could become true: primary data is held online and backed up locally.

Although the cloud is set to become a nascent area this year, cloud service providers are a little quiet about offline backup (development of offline storage for Gmail appears to have halted entirely, for example), but any IT boss with half a brain will realize how important a contingency plan is. Apart from the obvious risk of a cloud outage or even unexplained loss of data, litigation and discovery in a timely fashion could be hindered by cloud usage. A judge might not accept the excuse that the cloud lost your data, and fines or worse could follow.

In short, be the wise fool, not the blind fool. Don't ignore the cloud; embrace it. Doing so brings the power to control it. Wise up and get a proposal ready for your pointy-haired boss before he's tempted to do so himself. He'll believe the hype, but you know better. There are challenges ahead and, yes, you'll have to make sacrifices in terms of security (research private clouds if you want to have you cake and eat it).

You may think the cloud is bunkum but, for better or worse, it's coming whether we like it or not.

Keir Thomas has been writing about computing since the last century, and more recently has written several best-selling books. You can learn more about him at http://keirthomas.com and his Twitter feed is @keirthomas .

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