Viewpoint

Exploring the evolution of the the data centre dweller and back by popular demand, eyes down - it's E&T's Buzzword Bingo.

Is IT's head in the clouds?

'What makes data centre techies different?' asked the article 'Distinctly data centres' in Vol 4 #9 of E&T: the question raises some interesting points on the need for a new professional profile, as the data centre sector grows at an exponential rate. 'Data centres are increasingly complex environments where the needs of the computing component must be properly integrated with support technologies, such as cooling and ventilation, power supply, and physical security, for instance,' it adds. 'And because of the holistic way in which these elements must co-exist, the staff involved must possess a working knowledge of the main components in the mix… The roles and responsibilities of a data centre personnel define their function, and also confer a sense of identity that seems destined to inform an emerging professional profile that they share.'

Having spent the last nine months of my career designing and building a new data centre, I've had first-hand experience of the skills needed to develop and operate such a facility. As we were busy recruiting new talent to run the data centre, a key objective was selecting people with the right combination of skill sets needed to run and maintain the latest technology innovations in cooling systems and power management systems, as well as delivering the optimal mix of network services to our customers.

This continual shift - and the mix of skills required - should be recognised through more formal accreditation. The data centre industry needs to look ahead at provision for the education and training needed for the new 'hybrid' of technologist; combining knowledge of the infrastructure as well as the technology.

I cannot help but reflect on the experiences that we have gleaned; how much easier it would have been if there had been a course that brought together all of the elements of data centre design and build. This is an important point, because there will be great demand for these skill sets in the future, and tomorrow's engineering and technology graduates will be the ones responsible for building, designing and running these IT powerhouses.

I extend an open invitation to anyone designing these courses, to spend some time in Star's new data centre observing the variety of skills and expertise that are needed to make sure that our future graduates will be equipped to confront the challenges that await them. 

Inevitably, the majority of candidates we interviewed tended to be either traditional IT operations staff or mechanical engineering specialists. As those of us working in IT will increasingly find ourselves employed in data centres, the industry needs to take a closer look at how academic and vocational training in the engineering disciplines can be mixed to deliver the requisite level of engineering and technology skills sets. 

The demand for cloud-based computing looks set to increase over the next few years; the Digital Britain Report outlined plans for 'The Next generation Final Third Project ', intended to give more businesses access to the benefits
of accessing business services - such as email and CRM applications - via the cloud.

The growing trend towards an on-demand utility model for IT means that the need for this combination of skills will continue to be much sought after.

James Griffin, head of hosting strategy, Star

Buzzword Bingo redux

Three issues ago I updated E&T Buzzword Bingo players on some trends in IT industry technobabble. Buzzword Bingo, you'll recall, is where you prepare a list of industry buzzwords, and tick them off as they crop-up during a speech or presentation. E&T is committed to ensuring that its readers stay ahead in the Buzzword Bingo heats as we head toward the busiest time in the IT events calendar, so here's a second round-up of interminable terminology.

Let's begin with one of the renowned staples of the hype lexicon, 'next generation', a cliché that for decades has been a stalwart of countless PowerPoints and press releases down the years. In its lifetime, 'next generation' has seen many generations of hardware and software come, go, and come back again.

'Next generation' often used to be teamed with 'highly-scalable' for new IT product announcements, and although this venerable double act has drifted apart in recent years, they occasionally reunite for launches by longer-established vendors.

'Proven methodology' is another stayer that might've been lifted-off the label of some patent medicine from the Edwardian era - so meaningless and overused that it amazes that any vendor includes it in their PR and marketing materials; yet its use shows no sign of flagging.

Another trouper is 'legacy', as in 'legacy systems' or 'legacy software'. It started out in the 1990s as meaning the age gap between host-based (mainframe) and client/server platforms; but, as Wikipedia notes, even in its original context the term 'legacy' may have little to do with the age or size of the system - mainframes run Linux and Java alongside 1960s-vintage code - but is nowadays also used as a shorthand to denigrate any technology more than two years old. 'Legacy' can also be applied to slightly past-it computer paraphernalia - 'legacy keyboard', 'legacy printer', etc, which, happily, boosts its Buzzword Bingo incidence rate.

A newer buzzword that has mutated due to market forces is 'agile'. Appropriated from the business-speak world, for a while 'agile' was used to describe an IT vendor's approach to product R&D or commercial partnerships. Then, in 2001, Agile software development came along, and to avoid any confusion, marketeers replaced it with 'nimble': a wussier adjective prone to evoking images of the low-calerie bread brand rather than an ass-kicking technological market leader.

In the IT world, jargonising can target even the humblest of words. Take 'outcomes'. Suddenly aims, results, or objectives, have turned into 'outcomes'. This is a clever adaptation, because the noun outcome suggests a consequence that may be due to astute planning, but that also suggests possibility of unforeseen eventualities; so outcomes based on corporate intentions that do not work out according to plan leave no unpleasant hint of failure or lack of executive foresight.

James Hayes, editor, IT section

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