I've been writing an article for a magazine about cloud computing. It's a state of the nation piece, you know - how it developed, what models are available, and what's next. When interviewing pundits, one thing disturbed me: how disposable our IT workers seem to be.
When positing the benefits of cloud computing, a lot of the pundits say the same thing: the flexibility and functionality of the cloud means that we won't need as many people to keep the engines running.
Cloud computing takes virtualisation and puts a management layer atop it, to marshall those virtualised resources and keep them operating smoothly and efficiently. Sometimes, it all happens in a private cloud, inside a company's datacentre. Sometimes, it happens off-site in a public cloud, operated by the likes of Salesforce, or somesuch. The idea is that wherever it happens (but especially in the public cloud), this software will take a lot of the tasks that were previously done by IT staff, and automate them - or at least, make more tasks manageable by fewer people.
"Businesses shouldn't have to run data centres or even IT areas," said one smug pundit I spoke to at IBM. "The nuts and bolts of the IT should become invisible to them".
That's all a little worrying, for various reasons.
For the sysadmins, storage and network managers who currently earn their salaries by keeping the wheels of the computing infrastructure properly greased. If this cloud utopia comes to pass, what will happen to them?
"Everyone moves up the stack, so from taking care of disk drives they move up to IT architects and business analysis," said the pundit.
Ah, so all our IT staff are going to become business analysts, because lord knows, we need lots and lots of those. I don't think so. This reminds me of the chap I spoke to in the early nineties, who said that there was no problem with the UK's mining industry being shut down, because all the miners could be retrained in business administration, meaning jobs galore for everyone!
According to an IDC report (sponsored by Microsoft), cloud computing will create 14 million new "cloud-related" jobs by 2015
. Half these jobs will be in emerging markets (India and China particularly), rather than the developed ones. 2.07 million of them will be in the EMEA region. As far as I could see, it wasn't clear what these jobs were, but they're unlikely to be IT-related.
"Cloud computing efficiencies allow organizations to invest more broadly and apply this innovation to hiring more sales, finance, production, marketing people and more," says the accompanying infographic
. That sounds as though cloud computing will help small and large businesses to grow, creating more jobs on the business side rather than the IT side.
A large part of this relies on cloud computing being as successful as the vendors want it to be, and vendors often over-project successes, in large part using reports that they commission from analyst firms.
I remember the same arguments being made about outsourcing. The lion's share of IT was to be outsourced, and all the IT people were to suddenly become business analysts overnight, managing the contracts with the outsourcing providers. That didn't seem to happen quite as planned.
What's your view of cloud computing? Do you think your job is safe?