I was in a meeting last week with Gartner’s Ben Pring and he made an interesting observation that cloud computing at the end is just a result of Moore’s law. The concept is fairly simple and charts a path of increasingly distributed computing from mainframes, to minicomputers, to workstations and PCs (which resulted in client/server), then on to the Internet, mobile computing, and finally to cloud computing. But cloud computing is not an increase in distribution of computing — it’s actually the reverse. Sure, there are more devices than ever. But since internet application topologies have replaced client/server, the leveraging of computing horsepower has migrated back to the data center.
The explosion in distributed computing brought on by ever faster processors (coupled by lower prices on CPUs, memory and storage) allowed for the client/server revolution to push workloads onto the client and off of the server. Today, much of the compute power of edge devices (PCs, laptops and smart phones) is not used for computing, but for presentation. Raw workload processing is happening on the server to an increasing degree.
Much like a supernova that collapses into a black hole, workload distribution is becoming ever more concentrated in the data center. But in this case the data center is also being concentrated. The rise of the hosting economy that started with the internet era continues to accelerate. But the level of concentration of data center resources into a small number of super galactic providers is accelerating even faster. Amazon and Google are gaining share while much of the traditional hosting and outsourcing community is losing out. Some may not see it yet because their sales are still increasing, but a short look at some of the analysis by Guy Rosen on Amazon vs. Rackspace, GoGrid and Joyent shows that even some of the larger players out there are losing share to the galactic few.
This concentration is affecting the corporate data center too, of course. More than half of Amazon’s instances are going to large corporate users according to CTO Werner Vogels. It’s still very early days, and most large companies continue to invest in data center infrastructure, but you don’t have to be a genius to see that at some point the cloud concentration effect will be felt by even the largest of IT organizations. No matter how you measure it, cloud computing is going to have a material impact on the number of servers and related components that the average enterprise is responsible for managing. With the possible exception of storage, the effect will be to shrink the corporate data center.
So what does this have to do with IT staffing? The galactic-scale cloud providers have invested heavily in a level of automation that most enterprise IT organizations can only dream of. The result is that the number of servers per systems administrator at Amazon or Google is likely many times (if not orders of magnitude) larger than your typical IT shop. As more and more of the data center moves to the cloud and consolidates in the galactic core, the need for systems administrators and related IT staff functions will be diminished.
Until the cloud, Moore’s law resulted in a steady increase in demand for skilled systems and network administrators. At some point, the economies of scale and concentrating effects of cloud computing – particularly in the area of IT operations – will be visible as a measurable decline in the demand for these skills.