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Automation and software-defined IT can bridge server skills gap

New research from 451 Group has identified a shortfall in server skills, but IT admins appear less willing to adopt tech helpers such as automation

Almost two-thirds of organisations surveyed in a 451 Research study say that recruiting for roles across both traditional servers and converged infrastructure is increasingly difficult.

In the study, based on 525 web-based surveys completed by IT and server decision-makers worldwide, supplemented by 19 in-depth phone interviews, 69.7% of respondents said current candidates lack skills and experience.

The study also observed a shrinking set of available talent due to a lack of candidates by region and high salaries.

The evolving make-up of IT teams also is affecting the availability of server personnel. When asked to identify which best characterises the layout of their IT technical teams, respondents were split nearly evenly between two key IT archetypes, with 40.4% choosing IT specialists and 39.4% choosing IT generalists.

Christian Perry, research manager and lead analyst of 451 Research’s Voice of the Enterprise: Servers and converged infrastructure service, said: “There is an inherent challenge in the level of manual processes that exist in enterprises today. Breaking out of the practice of doing things manually can be tough.”

Perry said the study appeared to reveal a reluctance by IT departments to use automation and orchestration tools to simplify server administration. “We see a large contingent of server admins who are not familiar with orchestration  tools,” he said.

In a large IT team, tasks are often split, said Perry. “Different lines of business may work in silos,” he added.

For example, two administrators may be needed to deploy a web server – one to launch it and one to do the server configuration, he said.

Orchestration needs

Most IT managers want to get some level of orchestration, according to Perry, but a certain level of work is needed to ensure IT admin tasks can be orchestrated.

“They need to understand what all the tasks are and then orchestrate all the tasks to execute a workflow,” he said.

Among the barriers preventing IT adopting orchestration and automation tools is a lack of time to shift to the new tools and a sense that there is a big learning curve, said Perry.

In Perry’s experience, orchestration starts on a project basis in a line of business and spreads across the organisation organically.

According to the survey, the key driver for increasing the number of server-related employees over the next 12 months is overall business growth (67.7%), followed by IT organisational changes (42.4%). The survey found that concerns continue over the long-term costs of using public cloud and this is spurring some IT managers to preserve or even expand their on-premise servers and converged infrastructure to support certain requirements.

With the rise of cloud migration, 451 Research analysts expect a decline in the worldwide pool of available full-time employees dedicated to server administration.

Process automation can cut tasks and reduce IT administration time by reducing errors and inconsistency, said Perry. “If you can automate and provision a web server, it can provide a level of consistency you never had before,” he added.

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DevOps is also a good fit for orchestration and automation, said Perry. “If an organisation can understand that IT processes should have some level of composability, then those tasks can be reused,” he said.

Reusing scripts that are able to automate and orchestrate complex server configurations enables applications to be deployed in a more consistent manner than if server deployment is manual, he said. This can help to streamline the deployment phase of DevOps and reduce the specialist skills needed.

“When determining the optimal mix of on- and off-premise compute resources, there is no doubt that this is hampered by the availability of specialist skills and regional availability,” said Perry. “Whether organisations will realise their expected server staff expansion remains to be seen because of hiring difficulties.”

Trend towards generalists

Over the past two years, 451 Research has reported a trend toward generalists, particularly as automation, orchestration and software-defined technologies take hold.

“The time and resource savings from these new technologies result in a slightly reduced need for server specialists,” said Perry. “The good news is that there remains a need for specialists across both standalone servers and converged and hyper-converged infrastructures. This is especially true within lines of business or remote divisions or departments.”

As adoption of software-defined infrastructure technologies increases, by using hyper-converged infrastructure, organisations can gain new staffing efficiencies that fall outside traditional staffing policy and practice.

“Most IT managers are closely scrutinising their deployment options instead of blindly following the pack to infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and other off-premise cloud services,” said Perry.

When 451 Group looked at IT departments’ attitudes to automation, sais Perry, “we found that early adopters are far more automated and orchestrated than sceptics and significantly more than conservative technology adopters”.

He said the research group had found that, in general, mid-sized conservative organisations did want to automate their IT. “It takes a lot of work to get to a level of automation, but once it is in the software, it really works,” he said. “It frees up the IT team.”

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