We often hear about skills shortages in “hot” fields like security or cloud or artificial intelligence — the roles that make flashy headlines. But there is another massive skills gap being largely overlooked, that if not addressed, could have extraordinary consequences on the success of businesses. That skills gap lies in the very heart of your enterprise: in the data center.
Every digital transformation effort runs through the data center. Modern enterprises need a modern data center. But despite being the lifeblood of the business, the data center hasn’t evolved at the same pace as the rest of the enterprise. Technology alone won’t modernize the data center though – it takes people.
According to a report from the Uptime Institute, many data center staff simply don’t have the skills needed to modernize the data center. They lack experience in hybrid environments, software, and automation. Data center staff are also getting older, and businesses are struggling to fill open positions. Meanwhile, the people that do have those “newer” skills aren’t joining data center teams. See above: they’re probably being recruited to security, cloud, or AI teams!
This has left enterprises vulnerable in one of the most important technical functions in the business. To mitigate this skills gap, enterprises need a two-pronged approach: invest in automation and double-down on training and retaining data center staff.
Embracing more automation in the enterprise may change jobs and roles, but it won’t replace the need for IT staff. Rather, it will augment and assist humans. And ultimately, automation could be the thing to make the data center “cool” again. Because the job won’t be about memorizing CLI commands or IP addresses, which feels old and archaic. Instead, automation takes the mundanity out of the equation, and it will be about streamlining the provisioning and management of the data center. With automation, data center professionals could potentially run the data center on an app on their phone, or literally, use their voice to tell Slack to provision a new server and alert you when it’s done. Automation also removes the time-consuming bottleneck often involved in the change control process, which occurs when there is a request made for a new application or a change to something existing. These changes often turn into laborious processes involving multiple steps, documentation, and approvals, but automation is able to eliminate the manual work and expedite the time it takes to make the necessary change.
Most importantly, automation empowers data center professionals to be proactive and build skills by focusing on more strategic initiatives. It gives them the tools to transform what’s often seen as a cost center into a powerful asset that drives business outcomes. And beyond the satisfaction and day-to-day output of data center professionals, automation will allow organizations to be more agile and forward-looking.
As much as automation will mitigate the skills gap in the data center, it’s not a silver bullet. The success of digital transformation and data center modernization entirely depends on the strength and intellect of the people within the walls of these enterprises. Which is exactly why organizations, large and small, need to up-level and broaden the range of training in the data center.
Training needs to focus on skills development for existing professionals – they need to learn new tools (i.e., software, automation, performance management, analytics) to help enrich their knowledge and extend their capabilities across functions. Data center professionals don’t need to become programmers (most won’t and don’t want to). But the vertical silos within the data center are shifting to a horizontal focus with greater attention to how all the pieces tie together. Think of it as a college major in networking, with minors in software, servers, security, virtualization, and storage.
In addition to providing more in-depth training to existing staff, organizations should also aim to recruit IT professionals with specialized knowledge of software and automation. Those workers may not automatically consider data center jobs, but if businesses can create additional incentives, those skills could greatly augment current teams.
Digital transformation is a blessing and a curse. As many doors as it has opened, it’s created legitimate challenges for organizations bold enough to take these projects on. As of today, among the greatest limiting factors in technology-driven initiatives, truly taking off, is skills. A data center managed by teams with traditional skills will remain traditional, a legacy. A data center managed by teams with modern skills will become a more strategic asset, automating and empowering a modern business and providing a critical foundation for enabling an autonomous enterprise.
Through a combination of smart use of automation and a focus on people, organizations can begin to address the skills shortage and drive their businesses into the future.
*This blog post was originally published by Network Computing on 6/20/19.