Why your data center skills need an upgrade

I had the pleasure of speaking with Andrew Hillier, the CTO and Co-Founder of CiRBA, a leader in data center based capacity transformation and control software. We discussed how technical advances in data center management are transforming the types of skills that are needed by people working in a data center.

Mr. Hillier explained that historically, data centers have been run using a combination of: • Local corporate knowledge - The technical equivalent of knowing where the issues historically tend to be and where the conceptual bodies are buried • Device specific analytics - Describing the technical health and throughput of a specific physical device • Process analytics - Describing how well specific process or technical function was performing, such as data communication or CPU utilization

He went on to say that technologies now exist to allow those managing data centers to more easily look at them as a whole, rather than, as a sum of its parts. In essence, it can be managed more as a single entity than as a collection of connected components. This capability allows oversight to be more of a science, based on data, and a little less of an art, based more on segmented analytics and gut feeling. This is particularly true in organizations moving their computing capacity from a traditional computing environment to a virtual and private cloud type infrastructure.

Given this backdrop, I then asked Mr. Hillier what effect these technical advances would have on those working to manage these environments. His thoughts were as follows:

Tools Knowledge: As data centers become more centrally controlled through software, people will have to gain an understanding and working knowledge of these new monitoring, control and analytics tools.

Industry Knowledge: As the quality and quantity of these tools continues to accelerate, those making hardware and software purchasing decisions have many more choices. Certainly having multiple products to choose from has its advantages, but it brings with it the risk of unknowingly selecting products that lock you into a specific long term technical solution which could be very difficult and expensive to unwind.

Broad Technical Understanding: Certainly people will continue to have a particular technical specialty, but this more centralized and integrated approach to data center management brings with it the need to have a deeper understanding of other technicalities. For example, people working to manage virtualized hardware will have to have a deeper understanding of data communications, CPU utilization, and capacity planning.

Strong People Skills: Crossing technical specialties brings with it the need to cross organizational silos and participating in more teams. This increased need for teamwork brings with it a higher necessity for effective interpersonal skills. That is to say, there are slowly but surely becoming fewer jobs where you can simply sit in the corner of the room and do your job. As a result, more than ever, your ability to communicate with others will have a direct effect on your professional success.

Internal Sales Skills: Yes, sales skills. Sales-type skills are required for two specific reasons, namely, change and growth. Regarding change, if you are the one responsible for selecting and/or implementing these new data center wide tools, you are changing the jobs and potentially the professional destinies of the techies that will be using these tools. Don’t be mistaken, effective change management is partially good sales techniques. Regarding growth, if you are using these tools to build a state-of-the-art virtual cloud infrastructure, you may need to convince programmers and project owners alike that your new environment is industrial strength and is advantageous to use. This also requires a certain level of sales savvy.

Acronym Aware: This wider interaction with people from other parts of your IT group brings with it the need to know the jargon used in all these various technical silos. The reason is that if you don’t understand the jargon, not only will you not understand what people are talking about, but you will not be taken seriously by the people who use it as part of their daily speech.

Holistic Mind Set: Lastly, you must broaden your mind, not only your understanding and your skills. Using great tools like those offered by CiRBA and others requires not just an understanding of how the tool works, it also requires an understanding of how data centers as a whole work. This broadened technical vision is easy for some, hard for others, but doable for all.

Andrew Hillier is co-founder and CTO of CiRBA and can be found at www.CiRBA.com.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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