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Get to know 8 core cloud team roles and responsibilities

To fully realize the benefits of cloud, you're going to need to create a structure that puts the right people in the right places. Here are the key roles involved.

Cloud adoption can be a stressful and risky decision. It's the choice to step away from the total ownership and control of the local IT environment and embrace an uncertain partnership with third-party cloud and SaaS providers. While the cloud delivers an astonishing array of resources, it requires skill to perfect.

A key element in cloud success involves finding people with the right skills and expertise. Let's take a closer look at a modern cloud team structure, consider some of the most important roles, and review the tasks and responsibilities needed for cloud computing success.

Understand a cloud team structure

There is no single universal team structure -- no single set of cloud team skills or tasks. In fact, a busy enterprise can support numerous cloud teams. The goals, however, will be similar from organization to organization. Specifically, cloud teams will be asked to:

  • Migrate existing workloads from a local data center to the cloud
  • Develop new applications that run in the cloud
  • Rebuild existing applications to run in the cloud
  • Store and protect business data in the cloud
  • Optimize cloud architectures to run applications
  • Design workloads for high availability
  • Establish common policies and procedures to configure/secure cloud data and applications
  • Manage and optimize cloud costs and utilization
  • Implement specialized projects in the cloud

The skills, knowledge and actions needed to complete each of these project examples vary widely. Because of this, some teams will only need broad expertise, while others require a tighter and more efficient focus.

Consider the creation of a new cloud-centric application. This may require cloud-savvy software developers, as well as cloud architects or engineers to assemble the appropriate infrastructure for that application. Setting the standards for configuring and securing cloud resources may demand greater participation from security-minded cloud engineers, along with business leaders with detailed compliance insights. The trick is to match the skills and mindsets of cloud team members with the specific needs of the project.

While teams are typically tailored to meet a project's specific technical and business needs, there are eight key cloud team roles and responsibilities commonly found in a cloud team structure.

Key roles of a cloud team

1. Business leader

Business leaders are typically the project stakeholders or executive sponsors who manage the budget for a cloud project and anticipate the tangible benefits from the project's outcome. They serve as liaisons between the cloud team and upper management. Additionally, they establish the cloud project's goals, gather metrics and evaluate success.

One business leader, such as a CTO or CIO, can be responsible for many, or even all, of an organization's cloud projects. In other cases, department or division heads may be involved with cloud initiatives, decision-making, business policy development favoring the cloud and training.

2. Project manager

Business leaders can handle project management, but they may not possess the skills and IT background needed to organize and manage the technical aspects of a cloud project. To fill this gap, an organization often turns to a project manager. The project manager in a cloud team structure serves as the bridge between the project's stakeholders and the technical team.

Project managers should be outstanding communicators and motivators. They understand both the business and technical implications of the cloud project and are often involved with staffing, vendor selection, scheduling and budgeting. They use established key performance indicators to measure costs, availability, productivity and other actionable aspects of the cloud project. Project managers are also excellent troubleshooters, able to recognize and resolve problems before they cause delays or blow the budget.

The trick is to match the skills and mindsets of cloud team members with the specific needs of the project.

3. Cloud architect

The cloud architect is a senior IT member with solid knowledge and expertise of cloud applications, resources, services and operations. Because they have extensive hands-on experience with specific cloud environments, such as AWS, Azure and Google, they will understand the subtle nuances within each provider's services.

Cloud architects often help to design applications so apps function effectively in the cloud. They can also be involved with the creation of an efficient, reliable cloud infrastructure that enables applications to achieve high availability. The emphasis on design requires architects to understand cloud technologies in detail and remain current with cloud developments.

4. Cloud engineer

A cloud engineer is primarily responsible for cloud implementation, monitoring and maintenance. They set up and operate the cloud infrastructure designed by the architects. This requires engineers to possess detailed knowledge of a cloud's operation and be able to set up and configure resources, including servers, storage, networks and an array of cloud services. This may involve a significant amount of automation.

A project could include multiple engineers to focus on different areas of cloud operations, such as networks, compute, databases, security and so on. Once the cloud infrastructure is set up, engineers will provide the first line of support and maintenance. For example, if metrics report faltering performance of a cloud application, it's the engineers who get the call to investigate. Engineers also frequently handle project documentation and reporting.

5. Software developer

Cloud software developers are expert programmers, testers and communicators -- often, working in CI/CD environments. Most cloud projects are typically focused on three goals:

  • migrate an existing application to the cloud;
  • modify an existing application for the cloud; or
  • create an entirely new cloud-native application.

All of these use cases involve a team of professional cloud software developers responsible for designing, coding, testing, tuning and scaling applications intended for cloud deployment.

Developers that specialize in cloud projects understand specific cloud resources, services, architectures and service-level agreements in order to create scalable and extensive software products. A cloud project may involve multiple software development teams, each focusing on a particular aspect of the project -- be it the user interface, network code or back-end integration.

6. Cloud security specialist

While cloud providers are responsible for the security of the cloud, cloud users are responsible for security in the cloud. This is the notion of shared responsibility popularized by AWS.

A cloud security specialist sometimes oversees the architected infrastructure and software under development and ensure cloud accounts, resources, services and applications meet security standards. Security specialists also review activity logs, look for vulnerabilities, drive incident post-mortems and deliver recommendations for security improvements.

7. Cloud compliance specialist

Policies and processes guide the access and use of business data, and they protect that data from misuse, loss or theft. Cloud providers are working to accommodate major compliance standards, including HIPAA, PCI DSS and GDPR. Compliance specialists understand and monitor cloud compliance certifications and confer with legal staff. They also create, implement, review and update processes to meet evolving requirements.

In some organizations, an existing corporate compliance officer, the project's business leader or security specialists may take responsibility for compliance. Because security and compliance are so tightly aligned, compliance specialists work closely with the security team.

8. Analyst

While serious problems or disruptions are typically directed to engineers and architects, systems and performance analysts gather metrics and work to ensure workload capacity and performance remain within acceptable parameters. They may watch help desk tickets and categorize incidents to recommend additional updates or improvements.

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