The cloud is no longer the new technology platform surrounded in mystique and suspicion that it was. The business value and relevance of the platform to the market has largely been recognised. However, the role of hardware has too often been seen as secondary. The growth of the cloud has come alongside a pay-as-you-grow revolution in which technology is consumed ‘as-a-service’ on simple subscription-based models. The result of this is that consumers have less insight into the technology behind products.
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The ‘as-a-service’ subscription trend is one we’re seeing across business and consumer markets, from services such as Netflix through to Google’s G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Business). Both are also reliant on cloud services to operate. Netflix uses Amazon Web Services to manage its cloud, quickly deploying data and space to where it is needed to maintain service uptime. With G Suite, Google is trying to radically change the way in which businesses work and operate – with everything from word processing software to files hosted in the cloud.
The cloud is helping these companies shorten the supply chain and deliver always-on instant access to customers. This is an inherent benefit of the cloud but is only positive until something goes wrong.
The part we continually find many forget about the cloud is that it isn’t just some enormous invisible body. Yes, it can be accessed anywhere in the world, but it relies on data-centres hosting vast amounts of physical hardware. Only recently did Microsoft launch three data centers in London, Durham and Cardiff to support its growing UK cloud infrastructure – and Amazon is expected to follow.
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From the outside, it appears hardware is disappearing. Very few companies still have the traditional basement computer room full of servers. However, what we’re actually seeing is greater centralisation of hardware into big data centers. These giant warehouses full of server, networking and storage components inevitably require maintenance from technical specialist engineers. The challenge is that any failure to maintain a part or server properly could not only result in downtime for one company but multiple paying service users, damaging the reputation of the service provider.
When we talk about the skills gap – the concern tends to be around software development, but in my mind, as important an area this is it is not the full story. We require skills in emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality for the development of the UK economy. However, these tend to be heavily reliant on the processing power of the cloud, meaning we need strong and effective cloud infrastructure to keep things moving. In short, enabling innovation requires strong, resilient cloud infrastructure that has a heavy reliance on hardware.
Despite this, the focus in the technology sector has primarily been focused around training new skills across software and applications, when in fact, hardware maintenance, installation, and professional service skills are just as important. Government may have prioritised software in recent times, however, taking such a singular approach fails to acknowledge necessary supporting technologies and the skills required to maintain them.
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This is a view supported by many in IT support roles, with a survey conducted by OnePoll on Agilitas’ behalf revealing 78 percent of resellers, managed service providers and independent IT providers agree that hiring and training more staff with data-centre technical skills will help to ease the skills gap by 2020.
The research highlights the view that hardware and technical skills should not be regarded as separate or a challenger to cloud. If a data center does go down, the impact will be felt across multiple businesses. Hardware and the skills required to maintain it must, therefore, be seen as essential to future cloud uptime.
To secure our digital future, skills investment must be balanced across the cloud and hardware. New technology still requires a data center back end somewhere, so efforts must still be made to ensure a skilled technical function remains to manage and maintain hardware infrastructure. In short, broadening investment in skills across IT will help to reduce the growth of the skills gap and in the long term maintain uptime.