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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 traditional 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 in-house skill to perfect the arrangement and utilization of those resources.

A key element in a cloud strategy 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 cloud team structure -- no single set of cloud team skills or tasks. In fact, a busy enterprise can support numerous cloud teams. The goals, however, are similar from organization to organization. Specifically, cloud teams are assigned the following tasks:

  • 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 apps cost-effectively and resource-efficiently.
  • Design workloads for high availability and reliability.
  • Architect cloud infrastructures for workload scalability.
  • Establish common policies and procedures to configure and secure cloud data and apps.
  • Manage and optimize cloud costs and utilization.
  • Implement specialized projects in the cloud.

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

Consider the creation of a new cloud-centric software application. This might require cloud-savvy software developers, as well as cloud architects or engineers to assemble the appropriate IT infrastructure for that application. Setting the standards for configuring and securing cloud resources might demand greater participation from security-minded cloud engineers, along with business leaders with detailed compliance and business governance 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.

Diagram showing key roles of a cloud team.
Build a comprehensive cloud team.

1. Business leader

Cloud utilization is first a business decision intended to meet business goals. Business leaders are typically the project stakeholders or executive sponsors who manage the budget for a cloud project, and then predict and track 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, select relevant business metrics and evaluate success.

Business leaders are also responsible for cloud compliance and governance considerations. For example, public clouds have a global footprint, but evolving rules for data protection, data sovereignty, and regulatory compliance might impose requirements and limitations on workload localization, data storage and retention, and other needs that must be implemented in a cloud deployment. Such needs must be communicated to the rest of the cloud team,

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 might 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 might 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 dedicated project manager. The project manager in a cloud team structure serves as the bridge between the project's stakeholders and the technical team.

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, and reporting and analytics. They use established KPIs 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.

Project managers are most effective and valuable when the business juggles multiple cloud projects. A project manager can help to allocate limited team resources (such as software development time) across the demands of multiple projects and stakeholders.

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, Microsoft Azure and Google, they 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. This often involves selecting the best cloud compute instances, storage offerings, and network services, and configuration options to establish an efficient, reliable, and scalable cloud infrastructure for workload deployment. The emphasis on design requires architects to understand cloud technologies in detail and remain current with cloud developments.

Diagram showing cloud architect's skills.
Strong candidates for cloud architect positions typically have these skills.

Ultimately, cloud architects translate workload and business requirements into a functional cloud infrastructure. Cloud architects deliver most services early in the design phase of a project, but their role in a cloud project team often continues throughout the project lifecycle. After the initial design, the architect typically reviews metrics, recommends architectural changes to meet changing workload performance and reliability needs, and often assists in workload troubleshooting when the most serious issues require support escalation.

4. Cloud engineers

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 might 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 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.

Diagram showing skills found in strong cloud engineer candidates.
Strong candidates for cloud engineer positions typically have these skills.

Cloud engineering might also involve site reliability engineering (SRE). SRE is focused on end-to-end reliability, so there is often some crossover between developers and engineers. For example, cloud SREs might consult with developers to help design applications that operate reliably, such as handling unexpected errors gracefully rather than crashing. At the same time, SREs might consult with cloud architects and engineers to ensure that the cloud infrastructure provides the required level of reliability and scalability -- often creating policies and processes needed to handle related automation tasks.

5. Software developers

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

  • Migrate an existing application to the cloud.
  • Modify an existing application for the cloud.
  • 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 reliable 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 might 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.

Modern software development paradigms, such as continuous deployment or DevOps enable developers to handle the deployment and instrumentation of their applications to the established cloud infrastructure. This allows for more efficient and iterative development and deployment by eliminating the silos of more traditional operations teams. DevOps engineers frequently work with SREs and cloud engineers to ensure reliability and performance goals for the workload.

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 ensures cloud accounts, resources, services, data and applications meet security standards. Security specialists also review activity logs, look for vulnerabilities, drive incident post-mortems and deliver recommendations for security improvements.

Cloud engineers commonly handle security, but enterprises might need a dedicated or specialized security role for mission-critical or highly regulated workloads.

Cloud engineers commonly handle security, but enterprises might need a dedicated or specialized security role for mission-critical or highly regulated workloads where security breaches can have a serious impact on the company's reputation or regulatory posture.

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 business leaders and the legal staff. They also create, implement, review and update processes to meet evolving regulatory and continuance requirements.

For example, regulated data collected from customers located in the European Union is stored in an EU cloud facility and governed by rules, such as GDPR. Simultaneously, regulated data collected from customers in the United States adheres to different data sovereignty and storage requirements -- likely stored in a different cloud geographical area. A cloud compliance specialist understands the data in question, its location and the prevailing requirements in each location.

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

8. Cloud 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 might watch help desk tickets and categorize incidents to recommend additional updates or improvements.

Analysts also watch cloud costs, often comparing recurring cloud billing against established metrics and KPIs to form a comprehensive view of cloud usage and cost efficiency. Analysts are frequently key members of any cloud FinOps team responsible for ensuring that clouds are used as cost-effectively and resource-efficiently as possible.

Additional team roles

The eight broad roles defined above are certainly not the only potential roles that a business can embrace for its cloud computing projects. As technology and cloud services continue to evolve, it's almost certain that additional roles will appear to address changing business needs. Here are two examples of expanded cloud team roles:

Data engineer or scientist. This role specializes in data-related tasks and projects. The data engineer is responsible for knowing what data is available in the cloud, and how to process and manipulate vast quantities of data in order to facilitate analytics or advanced computing projects such as machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). The data engineer brings expertise in data management, translation and transformation They typically work with cloud engineers, security and compliance leaders to ensure that data remains intact and secure.

ML/AI engineer. Businesses are increasingly turning to ML and AI to use the vast quantities of cloud data that the business collects. ML or AI engineers are experts at building, understanding, training, testing and deploying various models with available data. They typically work closely with developers, cloud architects, data engineers and business leaders to identify and implement learning projects for the business.

Stephen J. Bigelow, senior technology editor at TechTarget, has more than 20 years of technical writing experience in the PC and technology industry.

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