IT operations staff have served as a cornerstone of the data center for decades; they've been the first line of defense to ensure systems run smoothly, to coordinate between application owners and engineering, and to handle the daily care of servers and infrastructure.
Virtualization altered some IT operations roles and responsibilities, but the cloud is a more dramatic shift. While change scares some, a bit of insight and education shines a light on the positive effects of cloud migration as new IT roles phase out yesterday's.
Adapt roles for the cloud
Cloud computing will not eliminate all the IT operations roles and responsibilities, but it will change them. With less and less hardware in the modern data center, hardware-centric roles will diminish. Virtualization began to phase out these rack-and-stack roles and the cloud might be the final blow.
When an application, such as email, moves off site to the cloud, its infrastructure changes -- but not always the roles that support it. The core of email administration remains unchanged in a cloud migration, but some control shifts, as tools and locations change.
Personnel often have unlimited control over on-site applications, but in the cloud, staff become users with less access to the technology behind the scenes. This limitation makes cloud application support more complicated, as it could mean less customization or added steps to issue and request resolution.
IT operations staff will need more soft skills, including communication, than before. A cloud application has fixed features and parameters that IT teams must convey positively rather than as limitations. If a user asks to address a behind-the-scenes issue that is out of the IT team's hands, communicate those constraints. It sounds simple, but if done incorrectly, the user complaint is apt to move up the management chain quickly with a high probability of poor results.
Old challenges in a new role
An often overlooked technical challenge that comes with the shift to the cloud is networking. To move from an on-premises application installation to the cloud might drain an organization's bandwidth considerably. An increase in bandwidth also increases costs, typically substantially, so use monitoring to reduce overhead and identify exact networking requirements.
IT operations staff must also be more aware of client status and updates. Cloud vendors control updates for their applications, and the requirements for updated applications can include client patches. In a traditional setup, these tasks would fall to a desktop services team, but in the cloud, IT operations roles and responsibilities include ensuring everything has sufficient support. To merge this responsibility successfully, IT operations staff might require training to look at the overall organization deployment on devices rather than just what the data center holds.
Know your vendor
In addition to communication with the client, communication with the cloud vendor is critical for cloud deployment success. Soft skills help in this situation, but a basic understanding of how the cloud and application function better assist staff.
IT operations roles and responsibilities necessarily include communication with the cloud vendor when issues occur. If the issue lies beyond the application stack and in the cloud infrastructure, IT admins need, at a minimum, a general knowledge of that infrastructure to understand the updates from the cloud vendor.
This awareness enables IT ops teams to translate cloud occurrences to understandable concepts for organizational users and management. Admins can help reduce confusion and educate the organization on the possible effects of infrastructure changes on their applications.
Does this mean IT operations admins should be cloud engineers? Not necessarily, as that would be cost-prohibitive, but consider associate-level training in cloud technologies. Vendors and third-party sites, such as A Cloud Guru or Pluralsight, offer trainings with affordable prices for employees to pay for out of pocket, but companies should front the cost to facilitate staff efficiency and comfort. Encourage users to attain associate-level certifications to show admins that management is vested in employees' growth as technology changes to help retain employees in this new cloud world.