"There is a fundamental change happening because of increased use of cloud solutions, service providers and, to a certain extent, virtualization of services, even when they're offered internally," agrees Heikki Topi, a professor of computer information systems at Bentley University and a member of the education board at the Association for Computing Machinery. For systems administrators, he says, "there is a need to operate at a somewhat higher level of abstraction."
Where others see the move to cloud computing as a direct threat to the role of the traditional systems administrator, Philip Kizer sees opportunity.
Kizer, president of the League of Professional Systems Administrators ( LOPSA), believes that cloud computing makes the sysadmin role more vital than ever.
With platform and software as a service (PaaS and SaaS), for example, companies should not rely solely on a service provider's expertise, but should augment that with highly experienced employees who understand the company's unique and sometimes complex requirements, Kizer says. Without an experienced sysadmin, companies "are at the mercy of providers' sales literature and sales staff," Kizer says. "They have no one with direct knowledge of their business requirements to advise them."
Within the industry, the prevailing wisdom is that most large companies are or will be initially adopting private clouds, where systems administrators are definitely still needed, before moving to a hybrid model of private/public cloud.
As a greater number of companies seek those cloud solutions, Kizer says, they will need staff to integrate cloud services into their existing business systems. "There will be programmer, sysadmin and project manager positions that will be needed, which could be new workers or sysadmins transitioning to those new positions," he says.
Not to mention, he maintains, there will continue to be highly intensive or proprietary tasks that require on-premises hardware and services, as well as desktop, laptop and tablet support roles, even if those personal devices connect to cloud services.
Bentley's Topi agrees that systems administrators will need a new set of skills geared toward the cloud. For instance, they could become involved with negotiating contracts with providers, understanding and effectively managing service level agreements and taking an active role in vendor management.