Ensuring your skills are in demand for on-demand computing

Will you be in demand in the on-demand world?

With the downturn in the economy and the outsourcing of jobs offshore, job security for IT professionals has never been more uncertain. Yet there is another trend that might represent an employment threat if you don't take steps to ensure that you're prepared. The IT industry's next wave is on-demand computing, and you should know something about it.

Leading IT research firms like Gartner Inc. and publications like The Wall Street Journal have proclaimed on-demand computing, sometimes called utility computing, to be one of the top five IT industry trends in 2003. And, though the year is nearing an end, that doesn't mean this phenomenon is ready to disappear, like so many other IT fads that turned out to be false alarms.

Instead, ThinkStrategies' industry surveys confirm the forecasts of other major research firms: that the utility-computing market is poised to grow exponentially over the next five years. In fact, ThinkStrategies' surveys have found equal interest in this new form of computing among large, small and midsized businesses. This means that IT professionals in organizations of all sizes need to become educated about on-demand computing and learn to adapt to this new IT model.

The first step is to understand what on-demand computing is. The concept is simple -- converting the static, inefficient, legacy systems of the past into dynamic, flexible computing architectures that enable users to obtain and pay for hardware and software resources on an as-needed basis. This new IT model promises to permit users to acquire computing power like electric power, on a variable, pay-as-you-go basis, rather than on a fixed-price basis.

But making the theory of on-demand computing a reality won't be easy. Meeting the unique computing needs of individual enterprises and end users is a lot more complicated than satisfying the electrical needs of companies or households. As a consequence, the on-demand computing concept has spawned a broad array of new hardware and software technologies aimed at solving scalability issues. Becoming familiar with the various on-demand technologies that are rapidly evolving is the second step in surviving and succeeding in the new utility computing age.

The key enabling technologies for on-demand computing include:

  • Autonomic computing
  • Blade technology
  • Grid computing
  • Virtualization
  • Web services

It is not only important to become knowledgeable about these new technologies but to recognize that they also could represent fertile product-development job opportunities. Provisioning and performance management software will also become essential in on-demand computing environments.

It would also be a good idea to learn about an emerging industry standard called Data Center Markup Language (DCML), which is being promoted by Electronic Data Systems Corp., Opsware Inc., Computer Associates International Inc., BEA Systems Inc. and more than 20 other large and small technology companies. DCML is an extension of the increasingly pervasive XML open standard. The goal behind DCML is to create a common language for on-demand computing environments that will encourage more rapid technology development and easier product integration. You can learn more about DCML by going to the DCML Web site, www.dcml.org.

While boning up on your technical knowledge and skills may help you survive in the new, on-demand world, building your business skills may be the best route to success. The truth is that adopting on-demand computing likely will be too challenging for even the most sophisticated enterprises. As a result, ThinkStrategies believes, on-demand computing services will become more important than the enabling technologies that support them. The evidence of this trend is already apparent in the movement of many large and small businesses away from traditional product acquisition toward contracting for application and managed services.

Whether it is application hosting or managed security, messaging and virtual private network services, these new pay-as-you-go IT solutions are becoming more popular. They represent a stepping stone toward more comprehensive on-demand computing services.

Meta Group expects on-demand computing services to become the dominant form of outsourcing in the next three to five years. Gartner projects the proportion of enterprises that obtain their computing power via these services could rise to more than 30% in 2006.

Just as traditional outsourcing agreements created the need for IT professionals with business skills to determine the service-level objectives, vendor management requirements, and migration processes necessary to make these arrangements successful, so will the new generation of utility-outsourcing contracts require specialized business analysis, vendor relationship and project management skills.

The on-demand computing concept has the potential to transform the way organizations and individuals consume computing power. This exciting trend could dislodge a lot of IT professionals -- those who aren't properly prepared to handle the planning, design, implementation and management requirements of this new technology model. Those who recognize the technical and business challenges created by on-demand computing will find many new career opportunities in this brave new world.

ThinkStrategies is a Wellesley, Mass.-based strategic consulting firm. Jeff Kaplan can be reached at mailto:jkaplan@thinkstrategies.com.


This was first published in December 2003
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