Yep, it's a risk!
Especially with the cloud as another means of placing sysadmins “back on the market.” While it is certainly possible that new opportunities will open up elsewhere, I think it might be prudent to learn another skill in addition to systems administration, just in case. Managing your own business – because “consulting” is likely to be where the few remaining systems administration jobs are – and writing are my choices.
Large enterprises will always need systems administrators of some variety…but they will continue to be ever more specialised. Storage administrators, network administrators, even “cloud” administrators. The generalist systems administrator, individuals such as myself who have served the small and medium market for so long, are going to very rapidly become extinct. If we want to stay in IT, we are going to have to form or join a consultancy; provide services not to one organisation, but to many. Their IT is moving into “the cloud,” and they won’t need us around anymore.
“The cloud” is all about efficiency. Google or Amazon don’t need nearly as many sysadmins to run a cloudy infrastructure as a series of small and medium enterprises would to run the same number of systems. No, they will in fact need /developers/. Software development – with an emphasis on systems management – is where the jobs in “the cloud” lie.
So it’s Darwin time. Generalist systems administrators can make their choices:
1) Learn a specialisation and compete mightily for the fairly static number of specialist jobs with all the other generalists who took that route.
2) Be confident in the awesomeness of your own skillset and take on the cutthroat consulting market, hoping to earn and maintain a reputation as “the best.”
3) Shift into development, where the real jobs in IT are.
Either way, remote desktop management in all of its various flavours is here to stay. Why? Because it is often the best option for businesses. There is a strong business case for each flavour of VDI you can think of, even as the small business level. I have organisations as small as 25 staffs running VDI implementations…and loving it! Organisations up to 250 staffs run without an in-house systems administrator simply because they can outsource their administration to a consultant like me for a half a bent pittance and outsource the hardware to a cloud broken to ensure they use a “cloud of clouds.”
As sysadmins we can choose to rail against all of this, or we can choose to embrace it. What we cannot do is avoid it. Cloud services – specifically the hybrid cloud which marries up local resources with hosted resources – are inevitable. VDI is a big part of this. I don’t advocate it. I don’t even like it. (Why should I – it’s going to put me out of a job!) I can however recognise the inevitable when I see it.
Apparently, so do many, many other people well above my pay grade. The kinds of people who own the companies putting these technologies into the market. It’s a bit schizophrenic at first blush; why would Intel, Microsoft, Red Hat and these other giants embrace or even push for cloud computing? You’d think that would mean fewer boxes shifted, as technologies like VDI offer higher efficiency when used either locally or in a hosted environment.
The truth of the matter however is that they win either way; Intel is in your datacenter, it’s in Google’s and Amazon’s, and Red Hat is running everyone’s website. Microsoft is providing you your desktop, and they don’t really care where that’s hosted. Cloudy services are good for these players because the easier it is to spawn instances the easier it is to solve business process problems by throwing some compute capacity at it.
We are moving away from the era of solving workplace inefficiencies by refining the sequence of tasks that individuals perform, or increasing training of the end user. We have entered the era of replacing jobs with shell scripts; warm bodies swapped for a rapidly spun up cloudy instance of something-or-other, and either run as a script, or – through technologies like VDI – having that job fulfilled by the lowest wage bidder from home over RDP.
Want to run a company today? You only need square footage if you want to physically manufacture something. All back-office tasks can be done from home using VDI. The meetings and conferences done over Skype. Lower the costs of rent, offload the power and cooling, the computing and the systems administration to a cloudy provider. Heck, you can even go the AMD route and simply outsource your manufacturing too! We can now run multi-million dollar companies entirely as virtual entities, with every single task except “shareholder” contracted out to the lowest bidder.
Makes you think…