There was a time when a phrase along the lines of you can’t teach an IT infrastructure pro new tricks would have been apt. There wouldn’t have been much need to try – IT infrastructure, dominated as it was by on-premise servers and other expensive hardware, was a very static, uniform, slow-moving area of computing.
Once you learned how to configure and manage one business IT network, you could pretty much run any.
Nowadays things are very, very different indeed. Infrastructure is one of the most dynamic and diverse areas of IT. It is also one of the most demanding. With developments like the Cloud, virtualisation, containerisation, edge computing and more, those inflexible hardware-based infrastructures of old have given way to fluid software-defined architectures that offer choice, flexibility and scalability at unprecedented levels.
IT infrastructure nowadays goes right to the heart of digital transformation – get it right and you go a long way to getting your digital services right. But for all the choice and flexibility on offer, the technical complexity can be profound. Multi-cloud solutions alone, increasingly popular, might cover combinations of public cloud PaaS and IaaS, private cloud deployments and selected SaaS services run over the top.
Hybrid configurations that still make use of legacy on-premise hardware are far from uncommon, while platforms like Docker, Kubernetes and VMWare boost resource efficiency and increase agility of development cycles.
So what essential skills do modern infrastructure pros need to navigate this complexity? What expertise will help to ensure they underpin digital success for their organisation long into the future?
AI, Automation and Analytics
In truth this is a huge area that covers a whole range of skill sets in their own right. But the ‘three A’s’ really get to the heart of the kind of technical expertise required to successfully manage the dynamic complexity of modern IT infrastructures.
Given all the different tools and approaches that might go into a modern infrastructure, monitoring and optimisation are high priorities. Systems are awash with data, and the only realistic way for IT pros to keep on top of it all is to apply advanced analytical techniques, backed up by Artificial Intelligence. With Machine Learning on board in particular, AI empowers IT departments with real-time and even predictive insights into performance. In addition, AI is also a key ingredient in automating aspects of monitoring, reporting, repair and optimisation, helping to amplify the efficiency and productivity gains that modern infrastructures offer.
Cloud and Distributed Security
Cloud-based infrastructures present a different set of cybersecurity and data protection challenges to your basic on-premise IT set-up. While traditional infrastructures were like their own isolated castles that you could build a big (fire)wall around, cloud infrastructures maintain open connections to many different places. Not only do you have to think about securing all of those routes in and out of the system, you also have to think carefully about issues like governance of third-party data storage, system access and so on.
All of these issues are accentuated by the fact that modern IT networks are increasingly distributed. Not only are core IT resources at a remove geographically from end users, but companies are increasingly using the Cloud to connect multiple regional offices to the same centralised cloud-based infrastructure. And then, of course, we have the growing phenomenon of remote and home working, something brought to the fore by COVID-19.
The additional security challenges this creates must be met with approaches such as Distributed System Security Architecture (DSSA) which decentralises certification, next-generation firewalls which manage policy traffic based on user credentials and application type, and even mobile device security to support BYO and personal device use at home.
Finally, given the cloud-based and distributed nature of modern IT system architectures, networking is a critical area for infrastructure professionals. In order to drive further agility and efficiency and future-proof infrastructures in preparation for further developments in technology and working practices, IT pros need to stay on top of the very latest innovations in networking.
Software-defined and cloud-based networking are emerging trends that are likely to become invaluable to the infrastructure sector in the coming years. The starting point for most organisations is software-defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WANs) and cloud-managed wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs), but we can expect these to evolve into complete end-to-end networking solutions. This will see the focus of networking skills shift from hardware engineering to programming and cloud-based configuration.