Examining the era of the data centre architect

The architect will need to be a leader who can use vast experience in the field to harmonise the efforts of individuals as diverse as a server expert and a storage expert.

As data centre technology continues to evolve, many IT departments are facing a two-fold challenge. They are realising that, beyond the investment in more powerful equipment, their employees must also have the skills to thrive in the modern data centre environment. Without properly trained staff at all levels, many of the technology investments may not reach their full potential.

Virtualisation continues to drive change in the data centre and demand adaptability and versatility by data centre operators and engineers. The advent of a virtual switch has been particularly disruptive. While virtual switches were already available in some server operating systems more than 10 years ago, the level of their use in today’s implementations has no comparison.

Whereas in more readily structured computing environments, roles, workflows, and skill sets are well established, the open-endedness of a virtual data centre that is so powerful can be potentially overwhelming. Given all the possibilities, each company, and each team, will find itself at a different stage with data centre technology.

The size, history, and culture of a company, as well as the nature of its real-world projects, will also play an important role in how it decides to approach the data centre.

While some data centre vendors will be focused on promoting specific products and solutions, comprehensive solution providers will ensure that all of the options are made available to customers, and that customers are educated enough to make the right choices for their business.

Because technology changes may in many instances modify customer IT organisational structure, they must represent a joint investment between the solution provider and the customer.

The solution provider needs to invest capital and resources in enablement, and the customer has to be willing to step up and make the changes necessary to fully exploit the potential.

In these situations, when the technologies are so extensive and so new, the purpose of training should not be to simply teach employees how to join a crowd of already-trained individuals doing a particular job.

The training must go beyond this and help companies create a new workforce — a workforce in which IT individuals are prepared to work within and outside of their current comfort zone.

An argument for this much more comprehensive approach to data centre training can be found by looking at how data centres have historically been set up. Traditionally, companies have compartmentalised their IT department, with the result that there have been data centre siloes: a computing department, a networking infrastructure department, and a storage department.

>See also: The software-defined data centre is happening today: Eschenbach, VMware

Virtualisation is continuing to merge these functions, and thereby the separate siloes have started to break apart. While this dramatic shift has not been fully realised in every company yet, a pathway now exists to allow individuals to embrace data centre innovation in full and bring their organisations to the next level. We have entered the era of the ‘data centre architect’.

The term ‘data centre architect’ invites parallels with the construction industry. An architect designing a structure drafts a blueprint of the construction. Next the architect gathers needed information from a team of experts, who might otherwise be challenged attempting to coordinate with each other.

Similarly, the data centre architect, or cloud architect, looks at a company’s data centre operation holistically and unites those with specific expertise in the server, network, storage, security, or software application arenas.

In the early phase of adoption, companies would do well to tap those most capable of serving as architect. These will be individuals who are not only technical experts in their discipline, but also fully capable of reaching out to the computing side of the house, extending their data centre knowledge to them and interacting effectively with them.

The architect will need to be a leader who can use vast experience in the field to harmonise the efforts of individuals as diverse as a server expert and a storage expert.

Data centre architects appreciate the details but do not get mired in them. Instead, they function as a bridge across the complexities presented by virtualisation, software integration, and application integration.

Increasingly, they become less hands-on, but they must always maintain the capacity to understand, learn, and, where necessary, embrace the latest innovations.

Once it has identified its data centre leaders, an organisation can decide how much it wants to evolve – whether to merge all the skill sets (or most of them), or maintain a compartmentalised structure.

The latter model must still rely upon strong leadership that coordinates the various technologies through a robust design, albeit with a slower cross-pollination of knowledge, and consequently a slower convergence.

There is no right or wrong evolution path for organisations embracing data centre virtualisation technology, but there is an ongoing need to understand the complexity, identifying individuals capable of making the right decisions and implementing changes according to what is best for the company.

>See also: The software-defined data centre: fundamentally reshaping IT

As part of this, organisations would be well served to maintain an open pipeline to those newly entering the workforce. While just a few years back, colleges emphasised exposure to basic networking knowledge, more and more educators are realising the importance of imbuing students with awareness of new technologies, understanding that by doing so, there will be fewer gaps to be filled later.

The data centre knowledge gap that is present today crosses all job roles from data centre network administrator and design, implementation, and support engineers to business services and technology architects.

The shortage also extends to specialized roles such as server virtualisation engineer, data centre network infrastructure engineer, or unified I/O engineer.

It is a shortage that needs to be filled from two sides: by a new workforce already partially trained as it enters the work space from colleges and universities, and by the existing workforce, as it finds its way across the bridge from a traditional environment to advanced technologies requiring a very different structure and skill set.

Those companies and individuals able to make their way across will find themselves in a much better position for the even greater innovations and disruptive forces that are coming in the next decade.


Sourced from Antonella Corno, product portfolio manager, data centre, Cisco


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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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