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IT Charts 'Cloud First' Route to Success

When a company is considering a new venture, where does it turn to find exactly the right combination of cloud services to make the project happen efficiently and economically?

Mark Weinstein believes the call should go to the IT department.

Weinstein is a "fractional CIO" who after working for more than 30 years for a variety of large financial firms, now acts as an advisor to smaller companies, helping them optimize the management of technology.

As the cloud era unfolds, Weinstein thinks that IT professionals should be segueing into professional buyers of services: from cloud services, to managed services, to software-as-services.

"IT people should be able to access the right cloud resources to provide burst capability for new ventures," he said. "They should be able to tap an ecosystem of providers."

IT tasks can be sorted into a pyramid, Weinstein said, with lower-level tasks, like infrastructure and hardware, at the bottom. At the top is knowledge and information.

"The job is to move up," he said.

Helping companies become savvy consumers of cloud services is a new, important job for IT pros -- one that is possible now that the cloud is taking care of the lower level jobs like hardware and infrastructure.

As cloud services become more common, IT pros can also press forward with optimization strategies like automation.

"Automation actually can work well in conjunction with the cloud," said Mark Herschberg, chief technical officer of Madison Logic.

Herschberg moved his last two companies to the cloud, and has introduced it to his current company.

Herschberg suggest that IT pros should be using tools like puppet or chef to manage servers. They should also build out automated deployment systems, whether home scripts, open source tools like jenkins, or commercial tools like bamboo.

Although these tasks are sometimes done by a build engineer, system administrators are capable of making these improvements happen.

Asked for some specific examples of high value automation projects that IT pros can initiate, Herschberg said, "You can now build out a full staging environment, but run it only during the times you need it. One button turns it on, one turns it off. Instead of doubling your cost to run a staging environment you can run it maybe 40 hours a month and it costs you much less. Likewise you can automate load spikes. You can then take it a step further with your automation systems and build out full test databases and load testing."

These tasks are typically costly with dedicated hardware, but more accessible with the cloud, making them ideal value adding projects.

"Sys admins should, and generally do, believe in automation, but they often they don't have time," Herschberg said. "As the cloud removes both some tedious work as well as some manual work, it leaves more time for automation and yes, it results in less work long term."

Another area where IT pros can add value, according to Herschberg: finding data sources.

"Data integration is still very new to most people but technical folks tend to know about data sources, especially disparate ones, that could be incorporated into helping customers."

Example: When Herschberg was working at a travel company, he began pulling weather data into some company projects.

"If I'm going to send you an email promoting a Caribbean cruise sometime in early December," he said, "I should do so on a day when it's cold and snowing, not sunny and in the high 40's."

Expanding IT skill sets to include cloud service management and data acquisition makes sense to Mark Frydenberg, a senior lecturer in Computer Information Systems at Bentley University, in Waltham, Massachusetts.

"The most popular position that employers are trying to fill is for a cloud architect," he said. "Someone who can design, plan, and implement a company’s strategy to use cloud computing apps and services."

Frydenberg adds that employers are also looking for cloud savvy professionals who can help sales teams, customer support, and developers improve their use of cloud resources, like apps and services.

"Some may feel that the cloud is putting some IT staff out of work," Frydenberg said. "But it is creating a host of new positions for employees who can specialize in managing specific cloud-based tasks."

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