Cloud of Controversy

Cloud computing has important implications for the region's IT professionals in terms of skills and development

Tags: Cloud computingIDC Middle East and AfricaIT strategy
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Cloud of Controversy Cloud computing could mean fundamental changes to IT strategy, and the skills IT professionals require, says Adam.
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By  Margaret Adam Published  July 11, 2010

In IDC's previous installment for ITP, we discussed the opportunities that exist for regional telcos to diversify into the provision of cloud services. In this article, IDC will discuss some of the more controversial realities facing IT professionals in the region as the push for the cloud continues.

In order to provide context to the discussion, it is important to outline the framework through which IDC views the cloud.

The cloud term has been bandied around for some time now and, while it has become embedded in the marketing collateral of most ICT companies, there remains a large amount of ambiguity surrounding it in the market. IDC believes it is important to clearly differentiate between cloud computing and cloud services, so in our definitional framework for the cloud concept, we distinguish between:

  • • Cloud Services - consumer and business products, services, and solutions that are delivered and consumed in real time over the Internet, and
  • • Cloud Computing - an emerging IT development, deployment, and delivery model, enabling the real-time delivery of products, services, and solutions over the Internet (i.e., enabling cloud services)

  • Simply put, cloud computing is the IT foundation for enabling cloud services.

Most agree that the emergence of the cloud model is a game changer for the ICT industry and, as most disruptors do, it courts its own cloud of controversy.

IDC research shows that concerns about security, availability, performance, the cost of an on-demand payment module, the lack of interoperability and integration, and the inability to customize are some of the major question marks currently surrounding cloud adoption.

However, benefits such as pay-for-use, faster deployment, monthly payment, the standardization of systems and, tellingly, lower IT costs and a reduction in IT staff are making the shift to the cloud very appealing for many organizations, particularly given the current economic climate.

One feature of the cloud that makes it so appealing is the high degree of virtualization used in these environments, resulting in higher levels of automation that, by its very nature, should reduce the need for in-house staff.

However, as adoption has increased, virtualization has often simply shifted complexity rather than solved it, as organizations struggle with areas such as virtual server sprawl. This shift has resulted in changing roles and responsibilities, and IT professionals within these environments have had to adjust accordingly.

At the same time, when one considers the move to outsourcing and its more popular sidekick, managed services, some of the more progressive organizations that have embarked on this strategy have used the opportunity to free up their technical resources from break-fix environments to roles where they can add more value and efficiencies to the business in terms of process management, supply management, and, in some cases, the development of innovation as a competitive differentiator.

So what does the shift to the cloud mean for IT professionals in terms of job security?

From a supply perspective, in the short term, the shift to the cloud is likely to stimulate jobs with companies providing cloud platforms, as well in areas like cloud security, monitoring, management, and Web application development.

However, for those who perform a more operational or infrastructural role, particularly on the client side, the cloud represents a real threat to job security. In order to survive, these individuals will need to invest in developing other skills.

IT professionals that are able to combine business processes with technical capabilities are likely to find themselves in high demand. In other words, those IT professionals that are able to really understand the business needs of their organizations and translate these into a broader, yet cohesive, procurement and deployment strategy are likely to flourish.

Whether working for an IT provider or a client, the need for business and IT alignment has never before been more critical. As the shift to the cloud continues, IT professionals will need to look at ways to develop their business process and management skills. For their part, IT organizations will need to look at ways to train and develop their staff and channels in order to support this new environment, while end-user organizations must think very carefully about their IT strategies in terms of what is already available, what would need to be provided, and, in relation to the cloud, whether to deploy via a public, private, or hybrid cloud environment.

While some organizations tend to be a little skeptical about the pace at which the cloud concept will impact the region, they appear to be much more open to the idea of virtualization, with adoption rates rising rapidly. Indeed, according to IDC estimates, 7% of servers sold in the UAE in 2009 were virtualized, and we expect this figure to rise to 10% in 2010.

When one also considers some of the challenges the region faces in terms of fast-paced growth (necessitating rapid deployments), skills shortages (particularly in terms of advanced skills), an under-penetrated SMB segment, and the need to address operational efficiencies, it is clear to see why there is a large amount of interest in the cloud model (albeit with limited actual adoption taking place).

What remains to be seen, however, is how the region's IT community responds to this shifting dynamic in terms of skills, professional development, and IT strategy. While it may only be partly cloudy right now, the storm clouds are gathering, and - to quote Benjamin Franklin - 'by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail'.

Margaret Adam is Research Director - IT Services (ITS), IDC Middle East, Africa, and Turkey

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