Is the cloud computing the end of the IT department as we knew it?

All cloud service vendors promise that a cloud computing solution reduces IT costs. The crucial part of this promise is the reduction in manpower costs. This you can find it on most “cloud cost calculators” available on the internet.

Internal server versus virtual server

You have two options when dealing with cloud computing.

The first one is to host an internal server. You have one-time cost brought by the server acquisition, and you will need at least a System Administrator to manage that server.

The second one is to hire a virtual server. It has the same specifications from a public cloud provider, so you don’t need anyone. Besides that, most of the part of whatever you were going to pay that employee becomes “cost savings”.

This leads us to the following question: Is the cloud computing be the end of the IT department, as we knew?

Let’s follow first the vendor’s logic to its final conclusion. According to them, the only place where one could find infrastructure management jobs would be with the cloud infrastructure they provide. By infrastructure, we mean server, networking, even operating systems. These crucial areas of IT would disappear over time, as jobs became more and more scarce.

The idea of not needing IT is a double-edged sword. On one hand, business users, especially those that have a poor relationship with IT, find this very appealing and use it as a big reason to promote the cloud. On the other hand, it generates resistance from IT departments, who understand that the whole idea of not needing anyone is just a myth.

3 Cloud servers myths

Several of the assumptions people make about cloud servers are not true, and cloud vendors deny some of them.

Backup is one such assumption. Many people still assume that cloud servers are automatically backed up. They don’t set up any kind of backup scheme, and end up losing a lot of data. Cloud providers don’t perform any kind of automated backup unless you explicitly ask them to do so. In addition, this is something most users forget to do.

Security management is another issue. Many people think that, since your server is hosted on someone else infrastructure, they ’ll worry about all the security matters for you. That is not true at all.

When you hire a cloud server, most cloud providers will deliver a virtual server with some sort of remote connection enabled. This means that, unless you set your server up behind some sort of firewall or with protection rules, it is open to attack from outside as soon as it goes up. While I don’t have any stats on this point, I’ve seen some servers I set up with FTP access being attacked less than five minutes after going online.

This means that having someone from IT managing your servers, even the hosted ones, can be very important. Sure, you can do it yourself, but then you’re in the same position as if you’d been trying to manage an internal data center yourself.

The fact is that, for most people, a cloud server is just like an internal server, only it gets “stored” somewhere else. This means you need a systems administrator as you would on any other server.

Cloud apps are, in a sense, even more problematic. With whom does responsibility for the environment reside? What happens if a user accidentally deletes important data or a user account gets broken into? Proper management of passwords, backup policies, access control strategies, and other issues are even more important. Solution providers limit their responsibility to making your data available at the predefined SLA; they say nothing about backing your data up or being able to restore it later. The same goes for managing users and passwords: the responsibility is on the hands of the user. If all your accounts are configured with default or weak passwords, you’re running a real risk of someone invading them and stealing sensitive data.

As more and more data moves to cloud apps, they are becoming interesting targets, and attacks will take an upward trend. This means that, more than ever, you need IT, people, to manage your cloud application environment, as you needed people to manage your infrastructure.

The role of the cloud in IT departments

The cloud does not threaten IT jobs, nor does it reduce to zero the importance of IT departments. If anything, the short-term trend is an increase in importance as users realize that they need the help of IT to manage the complex server and application environments that are being created ad-hoc in their rush to move to the cloud. Perhaps in some cases will just reduce the existing IT organizational chart. Nevertheless, even this is a matter of close analysis.

As with most new technologies, cloud computing won’t promote a destruction of IT jobs, but rather a change in their nature. As developers have to adopt new mindsets to develop cloud-based applications and services, DBAs will have to adapt to cloud-based and big-data-oriented systems, and system administrators will move from the low-level infrastructure issues (which will be more and more the exclusive province of large providers) to managing complex environments, spanning multiple applications, cloud providers, virtual and physical servers, and even merging the internal data center with the public cloud.

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