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Data centres: what are the new skill sets?

Commodity technology = commodity staff?

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Adam SalisburyAdam Salisbury
Systems Administrator

The pace at which technology evolves has always led staff across the whole of the IT industry in a perpetual chase for skills, knowledge and experience and just as you've mastered the latest industry development the 'next big thing' is already looming large on the horizon. One technology, largely disregarded until recently is power management technology. The race for the highest performance figures is fast becoming a race for the most efficient performance figures.

While the steady refinement of individual power management puzzle pieces does continue in the form of more efficient hardware and better firmware, there are now entire suites of software being developed to manage the power of entire estates, from out-of-band embedded software reporting on individual server power consumption to advanced IP-aware dynamically adjusted UPS systems able to communicate with one another at branch office level to make better use of the juice. Gone are the days where power management simply meant duplicated mains supplies, generators and batteries.

Even the big server virtualisation players have developed systems which can dynamically shift workloads between hypervisors during periods of low demand and powering down the servers not currently in use, for the small players the onus is normally on one or two system administrators to learn, deploy and manage these technologies whereas for some enterprises such a technology deployed a large scale environment will result in entirely new teams of operations staff being formed to manage what is fast becoming another 'dimension' of IT.

In terms of the impact to staff of these fledging technologies is that like virtualisation for instance, the level of knowledge and skills currently required to make effective use of the technology is fairly low in comparison with other areas. Converting from Active Directory to eDirectory for instance, would present a far bigger issue in terms of knowledge or skills gap than picking up a brand new technology. That said, with all that is currently expected of an average support technician in an average support role it's still a big challenge.

In many cases assessing the impact of new technological requirements upon those who must support them is inherently difficult, not least because knowledge and skills can be somewhat subjective to measure. The majority of a technical workforce is well prepared and equipped to self-learn to an extent, requesting further formal training only when they've achieved all they can on their own.

Currently the vendors of these advanced power management systems do offer training on such products, but more mainstream training is still in the making: no doubt in the future as such technology becomes commonplace and essential rather than merely advantageous as it is now, a world of support and learning will rise up around it.

For now at least, the best way to prevent overwhelming the operations staff is to research, learn and adopt such technology early and thus close as far as is possible, any gap that may exist within the organisation. Be ready to capitalise on the technology when the tools to wield it do become available.

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