Data Management

How the data centre workforce is evolving

Credit: Google Cloud

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected many areas of IT, including the data centre, where changes to the infrastructure — particularly adoption of cloud services — are bringing about the need for new skill sets among workers who staff them.

Perhaps no technology industry benefitted more from the pandemic than cloud computing; the location independence of cloud services makes them ideal for a world where the majority of line-of-business as well as IT workers are no longer in the office.

But does that mean businesses will rely on infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and no longer need their own on-premises data centres and data centre IT teams? Analysts and futurists have been asking this question for about a decade, but now cloud, already strong before the pandemic, has gone through an inflection point and brought new immediacy to the issue.

The answer is that data centres are not going anywhere anytime soon, but they will look fundamentally different. That’s good news for people currently working in data centres and those considering careers there, because adoption of cloud and other changes will create a wave of new opportunities.

Uptime Institute predicts that data centre staff requirements will grow globally from about two million full-time employees in 2019 to nearly 2.3 million by 2025. Growth in expected demand will mainly come from cloud and colocation data centres. Enterprise data centres will continue to employ a large number of staff, but cloud data centre staff will outnumber enterprise data centre staff after 2025, Uptime says.

On the hiring side, finding the right talent remains difficult for many organisations. In 2020, 50 per cent of data centre owners or operators globally reported having difficulty finding qualified candidates for open jobs, compared to 38 per cent in 2018, according to Uptime Institute.

For IT pros looking to be part of the new data centre, here are some of the top roles and in-demand skills to develop.

Technical architect

The role of the technical architect has grown in importance because applications are no longer deployed in technology silos. In the past, each application had its own servers, storage, and security. Modern data centres are built on disaggregated infrastructure where resources are shared across multiple applications.

This requires new infrastructure design skills to ensure application performance remains high as the underlying technology is being shared across a broad set of applications. And it requires high-level domain knowledge of network, storage, servers, virtualisation, and other infrastructure.

Data centre architect

The challenging job of data centre architect requires specific knowledge of the physical data centre — an understanding of power, cooling, real estate, cost structure, and other factors essential to designing data centres.

Architects help determine the layout of the facility as well as its physical security. The internal design involving racks, flooring and wiring is also part of this role. If done poorly, the job can have an enormous negative impact on the workflows of the technical staff.

Cloud management

There is no single cloud provider, and an emerging and continually evolving enterprise role is selecting and managing cloud services — private, public and hybrid. The attributes of cloud providers vary, with some being strong in specific regions while others may be better suited than competitors to provide specific services, for example.

In some cases, third-party cloud services are inappropriate, making private cloud the best answer, as is often the case when strict data privacy is called for.

Cloud services need to be constantly monitored and optimised to ensure businesses are not overspending in some areas and underspending in others. At the same time, cost optimisation cannot be allowed to result in performance issues. This role requires the skills to properly evaluate cloud offerings and provide ongoing management.

AI and ML

Data volumes are now massive and getting larger by the day, and with the rise of edge computing, more data will reside in more places. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are required to facilitate effective data management. There’s a wide range of jobs in this area across the spectrum of the AI lifecycle, including training AI systems, modelling, programming and providing human-in-the-loop participation to ensure AI goals are being met.

Data analytics

The future data centre will be driven by analysing massive amounts of data. Expect this trend to continue as more data is being generated by IoT endpoints, video systems, robots — almost everything we do. Data centre operations teams will make critical decisions based on the analysis of this data.

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