One question we are frequently asked by the media is: What is happening to data center jobs? As the reasoning goes, cloud computing, automation, outsourcing, data center consolidation and virtualization are conspiring to render data center occupations extinct. The actual data, however, tells a more complex story.
When viewed as a percentage of total IT staff, data center staffing levels appear to have leveled out, following a decade-long decline, and may even be on the rise again. The reason for this is not entirely clear. It may be that we are at the beginning of a very different trend: the build-out of data centers to accommodate even greater computing workloads. Or, it may be that recession-driven cost-cutting has caused a temporary disruption in the longer-term trends.
At Computer Economics, our annual “IT Spending and Staffing Benchmarks” study shows that data center functions survived the global recession just fine. And during the past few years, “just fine” is about as positive as it gets. System administrators, programmers and engineers, as a group, were at the front of the line when it came to job protection. Staffing levels among this group rose from 8.5 percent of the typical IT staff in 2008, to a healthy 10.2 percent this year. Some of this rise is attributable to a decline in overall IT staffing levels. A reduction in the programmers or network personnel in an organization, for instance, would cause data center personnel to look bigger as a percentage of total staff. But that is not the total explanation.
It may be too early to see the full impact of current data center technology shifts on IT employment. During the global business recession, the outsourcing of data center work seemed to suffer a setback as organizations hunkered down, took fewer risks and focused on eliminating all but the most necessary functions, including the very managers needed to reengineer IT processes. Now that IT spending is recovering, organizations may begin in earnest to shed data centers in favor of cloud-based resources. Today’s IT organizations are certainly investing in virtualization of all kinds, and use of Software as a Service (SaaS) is rising briskly.
Change is slow, however, and many of these same trends contribute to improved data center productivity — fewer data center workers are managing more servers, terabytes of storage, and applications. That only enables enterprises to absorb more computing resources. It’s called the law of supply and demand. As the cost of operating data centers declines, organizations can afford to invest in more data center capacity. It is little wonder, then, that system support personnel make up a rising portion of the IT staff today. IT organizations need people who know how to build and support the flexible infrastructure that can embrace the cloud while maintaining critical resources in-house.
We could, in fact, be entering a new golden age of data center employment where productivity gains will be present endless new opportunities for those with the right skills to manage and build virtual, flexible infrastructure and cloud-based resources.
For the time being, the future remains cloudy, but promising for data center employment.
John Longwell is VP of Research at Computer Economics , an Irvine, Calif.-based IT research firm, founded in 1979, that provides metrics for IT management. He is a member of Smart Enterprise Exchange and can be reached on the site.
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