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Other Voices: The IT-as-a-Service Evolution

Jake Sorofman works for rPath, a provider of automated application deployment tools. You can contact Jake at [email protected]

Most of us recall Ross Perot's quirky prediction of "a giant sucking sound," which he said would report the migration of American jobs to distant shores. His argument was that comparative cost advantages and frictionless trade would assure this fate.

It did, and many jobs never returned. But, despite half-written obits to the contrary, the role of the software developer was never among them. In fact, the software developer has faced several predictions of doom: Outsourcing, reuse of open source components, and modern development frameworks have all threatened to commoditize software development skills. But they haven't.

Why? Because the strategic importance of IT has only grown; at the same time, the complexity and expectations for velocity have done the same. Outsourcing, reuse and abstraction layers have only served to get developers out of the weeds, making them more productive in delivering increasingly higher levels of value.

The expectation for speed and productivity forced development organizations to look for new efficiencies in practice and process. In doing so, it has allowed developers to focus on differentiated value -- innovation, integration and more rapidly delivering on business requirements.

Today, developers remain deeply valued and gainfully employed. They're counted on to deliver more, faster than ever before. Certainly, roles have changed, but the demand for their expertise has only increased.

There's a similar trend underway in the modern data center.

Today, the greatest and most obvious threat to IT operations is the emergence of public cloud services like Amazon EC2, which has dramatically altered the standard by which IT performance is measured: Why wait months when minutes will do?

The threat of rogue workloads escaping to the cloud has gone from a dismissed overreaction to an undercurrent of fear. Consequently, many IT leaders have committed to define the future of IT service delivery in the fashion of the public cloud: Self-service, automated and on-demand. The transformation is underway.

Will this mean vanishing jobs for IT personnel in the modern data center? Not likely. But it will certainly mean changing roles. For example, release managers and system administrators tasked with deploying and maintaining business services will find manual and script-based methods too slow and unreliable to scale and sustain a dynamic IT-as-a-service environment. This will force an evolution in the sort of automation IT has come to expect -- from detailed scripts to abstracted model-driven approaches to system management.

Automation has always been the domain of the script jockey -- the IT Hero I've discussed before, who can turn paper instructions into automated scripts that carry out detailed tasks programmatically. But scripts are complex, brittle and unreliable. This will mean an evolution in the role of IT personnel from manual doers and script wranglers to technical experts who define and encode policies -- and allow standardized and well-documented models to execute low-level automation.

It's a truism that growing complexity will always result in another layer of abstraction that moves IT roles away from low-level technical detail and closer to the business itself. Much like developers who have progressively evolved up the stack, IT personnel will need to get out of the weeds and allow automation and processes to mature. In doing so, they won't sacrifice their roles -- or their souls. Like software developers, their roles will evolve and they'll find themselves more productive than ever before.

Most importantly, they'll find themselves better aligned with the needs -- and speed -- of business.

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