Short on virtualisation skills? Better get started

Everyone, not just specialists, will need some knowledge in the future

IT departments today may be looking to hire virtualisation specialists, but as the technology becomes mainstream for servers, desktops, storage and networks, industry watchers and high-tech hiring managers say virtual know-how will become a standard requirement for many IT job candidates.

“We see virtualisation as having a significant impact on operations and infrastructure organisations in IT. Most will start dealing with the technology in a stovepipe fashion: server, desktop, network and storage,” says Ed Holub, research vice president at Gartner. “But organisations are beginning to treat virtualisation more horisontally than vertically and pulling teams together to share that virtual know-how.”

With the most recent rash of virtualisation projects, the technology area has become a subset of the server team in many IT organisations, analysts say. But as companies look to broaden their adoption, subject-area expertise in desktops, networks and storage will require those IT staffers to also become virtualisation experts.

Ideally organisations would be able to devote some of their network specialists’ time, for instance, to building a virtualisation strategy in collaboration with server and desktop teams.

“IT organisations will continue to need domain experts, not virtualisation experts. Going forward, virtual talents will become expected and part of a standard skill set for system administrators,” says Andi Mann, vice president of research at Enterprise Management Associates.

Jake Seitz, enterprise architect at The First American company, in Santa Ana, California, developed what he calls a virtualisation centre of excellence when the company began putting virtual server and now desktop technology in place. He pulled IT staffers from several domains, as well as dedicated a legal and financial expert to the group. The virtual team operates independently of other operations teams and their job is to own the virtual infrastructure.

“For the most part, members of the virtual team are devoted to it and they bring their domain expertise to that group, because each area has its unique nuances that need to be applied to our organisation’s implementation,” Seitz says.

He is among the lucky ones whose organisation is large enough to support a separate group dedicated to virtualisation. Industry watchers say such an approach will enable more seamless adoption of advanced technologies and broader communication among IT groups, which for the most part still operate in silos.

“Companies need to establish cross-team working groups set up to make decisions from buying in the infrastructure and setting it up to understanding how to optimise the environment,” says Natalie Lambert, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

IT managers say for now they have to dedicate resources to virtualisation exclusively, but they can already see the writing on the wall – especially in smaller IT shops.

“That specialised area of technology is going to be rolled into the systems administrator roll,” says John Turner, director of networks and systems at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. “But in a couple of years, there won’t be a need for specialised skills. If you don’t know virtualisation, then your systems administration skills are old.”

Analysts say IT managers today need to strike a balance between dedicated staff and domain expertise. Those with smaller IT groups could put themselves at risk of losing their virtual expert, as well as the knowledge of how to intertwine virtualisation with servers, storage, network or desktop know-how.

“IT groups shouldn’t concentrate their virtualisation expertise in too few a number of individuals. You could have one or two people that develop the expertise, and then you are at greater risk of losing those people to other employers,” Gartner’s Holub says. “We are a few years off from virtualisation being a standard skill, and it is hot and in demand right now. You don’t want to go too deep with just a few individuals, spread it out across several people on staff.”

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