The Disconnect Between Cloud and Hardware

data-centre-engineer

Scott Lynn, Services Director at Nottingham based inventory-as-a-service solutions firm Agilitas, tells us that with all the focus today being on cloud based deployment we should not forget that hardware technical skills still have a big part to play in the future of IT.

Cloud technology has in the last few years cemented its position as the future of IT. Predicted to grow on average 19.4% each year until 2020, this speed of technology uptake has not been seen since the emergence of the internet. Fewer SMEs have any system hardware, and the days of a data-centre in the basement of every company building are slowly disappearing. The perception to the end user is that on-premise IT and hardware investment is on the way out.

Cloud adoption trends

This perception and the wide availability of the cloud has itself developed a somewhat blasé attitude to technology. Always-on cloud solutions are easily accessible, fuelling the idea that the cloud is independent of hardware. Despite most organisations having less hardware on-site than they did five years ago, physical hardware is actually still essential to maintaining system uptime.

The disconnect between cloud and hardware has developed as by nature, the cloud is seen as a connection to a network that is often wireless and without the need to connect to a physical platform in the same location. In actual fact though, platforms are run via mass data centres, rooms full of server, networking and storage components, all of which require maintenance. Just this month Microsoft launched three new data centres in London, Durham and Cardiff, with Amazon’s AWS expected to follow with its own locations in the coming months.

A data centre still requires a number of highly skilled individuals to maintain, yet rhetoric around skills and education has positioned the skills gap as a challenge facing more software coding and data analysis fields, with both areas expected to power the future start-ups of TechCity.

The emergence of AI and VR

It is in the start-up space where technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) are really starting to take off and are emerging in the latest business and consumer products and solutions. However, again these often operate in the cloud and require masses of compute power so are heavily reliant on server, networking and storage hardware and skills somewhere down the line.

Despite this, the focus of skills training, particularly from Government has been more on coding and computer programming, prioritising software over hardware. The intention is to develop the UK into a futureproof high-tech economy. Although a positive move, the singularity of the approach fails to acknowledge necessary supporting technologies and the skills required to maintain them.

At the same time, groups of MPs have been particularly critical of the Government’s efforts to counter the gap. A report by the Commons Science and Technology committee alleges that as little as 35% of computer science teachers have a relevant qualification, while just 70% of the required number of teachers have been recruited into UK schools.

Reducing the skills gap

Fostering high quality technical skills is essential to supporting cloud and the new emerging technologies like AI and VR that the modern IT industry needs to develop to grow. Interestingly our own independent research examining the opinions and future concerns of the IT reseller community revealed that despite the rise of the cloud, AI and VR, the vast majority (78%) believe that hiring and training more data-centre technical skills will help to ease the skills gap by 2020.

The research suggests that hardware and technical skills should not be regarded as a challenger to the growth of the new digital age, but rather the enabler. When a data centre goes offline today, it is unlikely to impact just one company, but hundreds storing information at one site. The stakes are higher than ever before.

To secure the future of our infrastructure and data, skills investment needs to be consistent across both hardware and software. The latest technologies still require a data centre backend situated somewhere, even if it is hundreds of miles away. The trend in decreasing on-premise hardware may have created an attitude of out of sight, out of mind, but the reality is that focus must still be given to maintaining a skilled engineering function to manage and maintain hardware infrastructure. Only by broadening the focus on skills development within the IT sector as a whole will prevent significant and disruptive skills gaps occurring in the future.