In my new role at Pluralsight, I’ve been spending a ton of time looking at IT Operations, broadly, as an industry. Part of my job is to figure out where the industry is going, and help get our authors lined up to create effective training in those areas. But I can also share those areas with you… so that you know where you should be looking over the course of 2015.
Now, you need to have the right attitude about this list: it’s stuff to be looking at. These will be a big deal in the future; some near, some far, but none “right now.” So I’m not saying you have to run out and become an expert. I’m saying these are areas that will be in your future.
“But I’m reading this list, and my employer will never do this stuff.” Well, then you should get your resume up to date. Because this list is basically a complete list of the major skills sets that will comprise IT Operations in ten years. Meaning, it’ll be this stuff… and nothing else. So if you’re not going to start learning this on the job in the next few years, you’d better hope your current job will last forever, because you’ll basically be getting outdated and unhireable. Again – over the next decade, not instantly.
And by the way, I’ve decided to consistently refer to the field as “IT Operations” (as opposed to, say, “IT Software Development”) to indicate the operational side of business information technology. This has no connection to consumer spaces. Those of us in the industry should honestly re-adopt “SysOp” as a job title. I miss it.
Big Data. No, really, read this.
IT Operational Analytics (ITOA) is an emerging thing, but it’s a real thing. Imagine the biggest log scraper-and-consolidator you can imagine, sucking historical data off every system in your environment. It then correlates all that information, and provides predictive analysis. “When incoming Web traffic does this, you can expect these servers to get hit like this,” all throughout your infrastructure.
The immediate application of this – and it’s currently a real thing, just early stages – is far superior trend analysis than you’ve ever had, with better ability to correlate trends to business events (like the Spring Clearance Sale that the company just announced, or the article that was published in the Journal yesterday).
The long-term application is to identify triggers (this happened) and instruct your flexible IT infrastructure to respond (migrate these loads to those hosts and prepare to batten down the hatches). The environment responds intelligently based on past patterns, and it does so based on past facts rather than someone’s current intuition.
Don’t just gloss over “big data” every time you read it. Yes, it’s a stupidly overused word. But for ITOA in particular, is has real applicability to your life.
THE POST-AUTOMATION ERA
I’ve spent the last what, 8 years preaching automation? I’m done. Automation is over.
PowerShell, for example, was a great automation tool. It’s now moving beyond that into the next logical stage, which is true configuration management. Not what System Center calls configuration management, either. And, regardless of what brand name you like, configuration management is the next big phase for IT. Whether you use Ansible, DSC, Chef, Puppet, Salt, or Pure Black Magic, being able to state what you want your environment look like, and having your environment “make it happen,” is where we’ll all be in a decade.
Yes, the current state of the art for configuration management is still a little raw, and still requires a bit of hackery and fudging. That’s changing mega-rapidly – like, monthly. Remember, a decade ago, Windows XP was new. A decade from now, you won’t recognize modern datacenters. This all plays into how IOTA can help, too: if a monitoring and analysis tool determines that the environment needs to change (based on a trigger), it simply modifies the “desired state” of the environment. The environment then responds accordingly. The monitoring solution doesn’t make changes; it simply orders them, and then environment knows how to “change itself.”
This is massively different from what’s been done in IT before. Ever. You know how everything in IT is basically old stuff come around for another try? Thin computing, thick computing. Distributed, centralized. We go through trends. Desired state configuration (lowercase letters, not necessarily the specific Microsoft approach to it) is new. Our IT governance frameworks – ISO 20000, ITIL, COBIT – don’t even imagine something like this, it’s so startlingly new. And yet it’s very much a thing, right now.
You’ll no longer automate tasks – you’ll simply describe what you want. Yes, there’ll be some ridiculously highly-paid people who write the automation code that enables the environment to adjust itself on command, but if you’re not already doing that kind of coding, you’re not likely to be one of them. You’re about 5 years behind already, so you’ll probably just “consume” what they’re doing. But this changes how you manage your environment at a fundamental level – so start paying attention.
THE END OF HOMOGENEITY
That is a hard word to say, “homogeneity.” Ask me to some time if you see me. Not at a bar.
Most corporate IT people lived in this fantasy world, a few years back, where we wanted everything to be the same. Same client OS, same server OS, same everything, as much as possible. We hated the exceptions – damn Marketing people and their Macs – and we did everything we could to contain them. We told ourselves it was cheaper to manage, cheaper to maintain, cheaper everything. We may have been right.
The decision was taken out of our hands when our users volunteered to pay for their own IT equipment. “OMFG,” the CFO said, “they want to do what? I’m in.” And welcome to the BYOD era. And it’s going to get a lot worse, because the diversification is going to get a lot more diversified. We can’t stop it – we already lost.
And yes, it’s a pain. And yes, it’s more expensive to support. And yes, it is in many ways less secure than an ideal world, but honestly your ACLs are a mess anyway, so let’s not drag security into the discussion. Anyway, you’re probably correct in every way that this level of diversification, and loss of control, is bad from a purely IT management perspective.
Doesn’t matter. We weren’t asked.
You basically have choices at this point. Choice A, bitch about it. Choice B, bitch about it and adapt anyway. Either way, you get to bitch about it – but Choice B gives you a career in 10 years, and Choice A makes you a relic. “Oh, this BYOD trend will stop,” you say? Heh. Go buy yourself a calculator: your organization is financially invested… in not being as financially invested in IT. Companies like Apple and Samsung are going to slowly work through the manageability problems, with able help from companies like Microsoft and Amazon, who can provide management interfaces. Remember, De Nile is a river in Egypt, not a career choice.
SERVERS AREN’T WORKSTATIONS
I’ve been saying for eight years that Microsoft would one day ship Windows Server that didn’t have windows. Where it wasn’t even an option. And now we’re hearing early rumblings of “Nano Server,” and all I can say is… I told ya so. And if you think that this “Nano Server” won’t someday be the only version of Windows Server they ship… check back in eight years, and I’ll say it again.
So if you’re not already thinking like a Linux admin, with their keyboard-jockey attitude and funny haircuts, it’s time to change your haircut. Start thinking, “wow, how would I manage that machine if it didn’t have a video card anywhere in it?” Start thinking, “wow, how would I even get to that machine if it didn’t support direct attached human interface devices at all?” Yeah. Get to be an expert in networking again, and brush up on the remoting protocols, because these will have a big part in your future in a decade. Big, big. Trust me here. I’m only wrong when it comes to Transformers movies.
WHAT’s ON YOUR MIND?
So with those in mind… what’re you thinking? Worried about anything? Think I missed a bit? Well maybe I’m just saving it for a future article, smarty pants. But maybe not – drop a comment and tell me what you think. Disagree completely? That’s cool – let me know. Be professional, and make a case for your opinion. Maybe, like Michael Bay has never done, you’ll change my mind.