Will automation (in conjunction with the cloud) eventually wipe out the majority of sysadmin and datacenter jobs?
That seems to be a running concern among tech professionals who work with IT infrastructure. Over the past several years, the combination of cloud-based tools and increasingly efficient on-premises software has reduced the number of people necessary to run even the largest datacenters. Nor does that technological evolution show any signs of slowing: for example, Oracle announced this week that its latest automated database (dubbed “Oracle 18c”) is capable of patching itself without needing to go offline.
“There is no pilot error anymore, because there is no pilot,” Oracle CTO and co-founder Larry Ellison told a keynote audience at this year’s Oracle OpenWorld conference. “Therefore, we can guarantee an availability time of 99.95 percent. That’s less than 30 minutes a year of planned or unplanned downtime.” He also took several swipes at AWS, stating that Oracle’s cloud products will lead the market in cost savings.
Fifteen years ago, an e-commerce firm that needed to rapidly scale might have its tech pros rush out and purchase as many servers as possible. It would need the staff to manage the software running on those servers (and to pray that the whole system would stay online during busy periods). Now, pretty much any firm can reserve the necessary capacity with the cloud-computing vendor of their choice, and adjust according to market and internal needs.
As a concept, that’s incredibly freeing: picture all the small businesses that grew more efficiently thanks to judicious use of AWS instances. But it also smells of trouble to those sysadmins and other tech pros tasked with managing complicated in-house systems.
How do tech pros evolve in the face of automation and the cloud? Here are some skills to embrace.
Although tech pros are well-versed in the technologies their companies use, other stakeholders may have precious little clue how things actually work. “What’s the cloud?” asks the perplexed executive, as his tech team tries to explain the idea of AWS for the fourth time.
As technologies evolve, tech pros’ responsibilities may shift (or disappear entirely), but there will always remain a need to explain how technology works to others. At key junctures, an organization will need to make a decision about which technologies to embrace—and at those moments, tech pros will need to walk executives and others through how things actually work.
If you know technology backwards and forwards, and you can communicate the underlying concepts, you’ll likely retain a job no matter how much things might change within the organization. Soft skills are always important.
Every organization is different, and no cloud platform (or automation technology) is truly one-size-fits-all. Even if tech pros need to do less to maintain a system, they’ll have to set it up, and make periodic checks to ensure everything is running efficiently. This is one of the reasons why continuing education and certification in various technologies is so important—you’ll know exactly what your company needs at any given time.
In other words, sysadmins who have spent their careers working with on-premises servers might start acting more like DevOps experts, setting up applications and monitoring systems.
Despite Larry Ellison’s description of the incredible, self-repairing database, systems break; it’s an inevitable law. Boosting your analytical and troubleshooting skills—and developing a reputation as the office “problem solver” in the process—could prove especially handy when systems break down.