Popular thought is eventually every product gets commoditized. Some industries may take longer than others, but competition normally catches the market leader and costs a driven down. Or more efficient ways of providing a product or service is developed. Vendors then have to find some way to add value around the commoditized product. I’m wondering if enterprise infrastructure engineer is quickly becoming a commodity and what value-add needs to occur to stay happily employed.
We have heard it preached that computer science is one of the sure career bets. You constantly see a need for computer science majors in the workforce. However, IT engineers are under pressure from several fronts. There are Cloud services such as AWS, VMware Cloud Hybrid Service and the host of OpenStack providers competing for your compute responsibilities. Then there are the traditional outsourcing companies such as Accenture, IBM and HP Enterprise Services competing for general IT services. Both of these trends have been going on for a few years now. Adding to these pressures are the hyper-converged infrastructure and Software Defined Networking (SDN).
Our industry is a double-edged sword. One of the most compelling parts of the industry is how quickly it moves, and the need to constantly re-invent self. But it’s this same innovation that can bite the career. We find ourselves in situations where we become as smart as possible to make our own jobs obsolete. Every year it’s a grind to do more with less. And every year the bar is set even higher.
“Hyper-converged Infrastructures” is an interesting development during the recent past. Enterprise technology is unique in that as it matures, the physical size of the equipment shrinks while the performance and capability increases. This has enabled a new class of datacenter devices that combine shared storage, compute and the connection between the nodes (networking). Examples of companies putting out products in this category include Nutanix and SimpliVity. The advantages from a technology perspective are pretty obvious. You eliminate the cost and complexity while achieving great or good enough performance.
Hyper-converged Infrastructures allow administrators to do more with less. Not just less physical resources but also with less engineering staff to support the environment. For the right installation, converged infrastructures can reduce, eliminate or consolidate entire support pillars. Converged Infrastructures are aimed at reducing complexity and costs. SDN also adds a similar type of pressure.
The network will get virtualized. There maybe a question to what extent and which technology. The enterprise will eventually embrace the network overlay. There will always be a need for engineers to manage the physical layer of the network. Just like when carriers implemented overlays such as MPLS, there was a need to continue maintaining the physical underlay. However, it did enable the carriers to reduce the costs of providing services to more customers using less infrastructure and engineers.
SDN will have the same impact on enterprise. The promise of the technology will allow enterprises to offer better service levels with less infrastructure and fewer engineers. This isn’t a new trend in technology. IT engineers ways to do more with less every day. You should be able to look over your resume and see how you’ve enabled an enterprise to leverage technology to do great things while either reducing cost or at least slowing down the growth of IT spending. In other words, the measure of your success is how well you are able to do more with less each day.
This all means the nature of the jobs change with more frequency than most of us would like at times. If you are an engineer in a pillared organization, you should look beyond your pillar organization to a broader skillset. The individual pillars are being broken down providing an efficient infrastructure. The need to have a deeper understanding across IT infrastructure is critical. But that’s the simple part. As engineers, we understand upgrading our technical skill to meet the market. Just upgrading your technical skill over the long period will help you stay employed in technology. With the direction of the market, the job may be with a cloud provider or service company.
What do you do if you enjoy working in end user organizations? To do so, enterprise engineers need to become more familiar with the business of business. They need to add value around the commodity of enterprise service. Enterprise engineers will be required to take business requirements and translate them into technical requirements. Think of the role as a management consultant with a focus on enterprise IT. Today it’s a unicorn of sorts. The team over on Geek Whispers talked about this mystical beast – seasoned IT worker with deep business skill.
I may be biased. My day job is an IT Management Consultant. I get to speak geek and business every day and see the future of the enterprise IT worker consolidating. What are your thoughts? Can you stay a pure geek and thrive in corporate IT long term?