IT is no longer a custodian of legacy infrastructure, but a technology service broker for the business and an ambassador of change, say Gartner analysts.
LAS VEGAS – If data center managers want to advance in their careers, they need to grasp which way the wind is blowing, said analysts at the recent Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations Management and Data Center Conference.
The message centered on how IT should embrace digital platforms, data insight and new computing models to help the business innovate and grow. The old practice of presiding over servers, storage and networking is dying, said Milind Govekar, research vice president at Gartner Research, and Dave Russell, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, in a joint keynote.
“We could become custodians of legacy technology if we don’t adapt,” Russell emphasized. He noted that nearly 30% of IT spending is being expended by business units rather than IT departments.
At the same time, new technologies outside the purview of traditional infrastructure – including Internet of Things (IoT)-connected sensors, blockchain transaction models and artificial intelligence -- have been laid at the feet of IT infrastructure managers. “Technology ... is here on our doorstep, here for us to manage,” Russell noted. “Things like cloud computing, IoT sensors, blockchain, and artificial intelligence -- these things happen outside of infrastructure. But today, they are part and parcel of operations.”
In turn, IT departments need to build technology foundations, or platforms, to deal with the billions of users, devices and zettabytes of data that will define enterprise business by 2020 and beyond.
For IT to enable this foundation, infrastructure professionals need to develop new programming skills and shift their roles, becoming, in effect, service brokers for the business, said Govekar and Russell. That means moving beyond scripts and the command line and understanding how to program data center infrastructure. It also means learning how to use data analytics and build artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning into systems to make them more automated, more self-guided, more self-healing and more interactive with users. Ultimately, IT will deliver services and experiences, not hardware or networking connectivity.
“We’re moving from dedicated infrastructure to shared infrastructure to programmable infrastructure,” Govekar said. “APIs [application programming interfaces] are necessary to build that programmable infrastructure. We will have to start recruiting programmers in I/O [infrastructure and operations]. We can’t have only administrators.”
Govekar said that one of his clients, a large U.S. healthcare company, no longer recruits data center employees who lack programming skills. This also helps create systems that are more autonomous and don’t need as much oversight and manual remediation. “This is how they are building their digital platform,” Govekar said.
Govekar and Russell said that predictions that artificial intelligence could displace human workers in droves is misguided. By 2021, Govekar countered, AI could bring 500,000 new jobs to the workforce.
In addition to managing the influx of data, devices and users, IT needs to handle new computing models such as edge computing technology (see our related story) to enable new experiences, like immersive headset technology or data analytics in real time. New models like edge computing and multicloud service provisioning can enable IT departments to become heroes as they deliver services.
In essence, these new trends give IT new purpose. The role of IT departments has shifted form managing infrastructure to delivering services, Russell and Govekar argued.
Finally, Govekar and Russell encouraged companies to hire not only those who can help program infrastructure but also workers who are quick-change artists and can help lead their companies through an uncertain future with flexibility. “We need generalists, specialists, and versatilists (IT pros whose multidisciplinary assignments help them to apply synthesis to a wider set of problems).”
In the past, companies often patted themselves on the back for being robust and able to stand their ground. But Govekar and Russell stressed that the old way of building strong companies may be outmoded. While previously, companies built themselves to last and sustain the vagaries of the market, today the goal is to be agile, flexible and constantly changing.
“Change now is accelerating,” Russell said. “We must begin to replace fragile, static, brittle systems with newer kinds of infrastructure. Stop building systems to last, and start building systems to change. “
Lauren Horwitz is the managing editor of Cisco.com, where she covers the IT infrastructure market and develops content strategy. Previously, Horwitz was a senior executive editor in the Business Applications and Architecture group at TechTarget;, a senior editor at Cutter Consortium, an IT research firm; and an editor at the American Prospect, a political journal. She has received awards from American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), a min Best of the Web award and the Kimmerling Prize for best graduate paper for her editing work on the journal article "The Fluid Jurisprudence of Israel's Emergency Powers.”