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Data Center Staffing – Crisis Looming or Opportunity Waiting?

By Dave Cappuccio | January 02, 2011 | 2 Comments

Food for ThoughtData Centers

in the area of data center staffing there is both a crisis looming, and an opportunity, for those thinking ahead.

The crisis is developing from three directions at once. First, it is becoming very difficult for data center managers to retain their best and brightest staff. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today’s labor force will have an average of 14 different jobs by the time they are 38. The days of job security and company loyalty as motivating factors are long gone, and data center managers need to develop new ways to retain staff. Worse, the staff at greatest risk are those with the most in demand skills, and consequently the most difficult (and costly) to replace.

Secondly the first Baby Boomer’s are beginning to reach retirement age in 2011. The first wave of Boomers will reach 65 this year and in North America we can expect an average of 10,000 people reaching retirement age, every day, for the next 19 years. But the issue is not the people in many cases – it’s the knowledge that’s retiring with them.

And third, a staffing crisis is being driven by virtualization – or the movement towards converged infrastructures as a whole. IT managers are realizing that as more and more technologies converge, the responsibility (end to end) for a given process changes. Take for example the movement towards converged storage infrastructures. Traditionally a storage manager had end-to-end responsibility for capacity, throughput, performance and availability. But when virtual infrastructures are using SAN’s, and Fiber Channel is running over Ethernet, who has responsibility for the overall storage environment; the network team, storage team, virtualization team, or server team? The answer is “all of the above”. Which brings up a huge issue in vertically organized shops today. And the solution in many organizations is to stress a broader vs. a deeper skill set – or as some like to call it: the T shaped employee.

If you look at any employee within the IT group, try to imagine them as represented by a capital letter “T,” where the center post of the T represents their depth of knowledge in their primary skill set. Some people can drill down that center post to a frightening level of detail, but, in a sense, the depth of the T represents their strength as a technologist, and, in most organizations, it’s the key to their credibility in the organization, and to their success within IT. It’s their core.

The cross bar of the T is not about technology per se, but about the relationship between converging technologies (and the business) and how much that employee understands about these relationships. As you increase the number of relationships (or technology linkages), the broader the crossbar on the T becomes. Now sit back and think about the most valuable people in the IT organization — those people who always get the projects handed to them, because we know they’ll get things done, regardless. If you look at the strengths they bring to any project, it’s rarely depth of knowledge (the vertical T), but breadth of understanding (all the linkages). Drill-down specialists are available in all disciplines, but the linkage masters are hard to find.

This then becomes a motivational tool for organizations. Let’s begin to recognize what we really value in IT — not depth (except in junior people), but breadth across multiple disciplines coupled with depth in a primary discipline. It’s difficult to train people with this knowledge, except through real world experiences with a business context; your business, and your projects. In some cases, it may take forced change in disciplines, but force the change in a related discipline with the idea of expanding knowledge and creating those linkages. The most effective IT people are always looking for new things to learn, and, in many cases, the most interesting areas are in the unknown, not the known areas. Enabling this learning — even incenting it — is a critical success factor as we move toward fully virtualized environments. And when employees realize that their value is not only how much they know in a discipline, but how much they understand the linkages between disciplines, IT as a whole will become a much stronger organization, and more able to adapt to changing environments.

Developing people with these kinds of skills can help alleviate both the baby boomer/skills transfer issue, as well as the issue of keeping your best people challenged and growing their skill sets, while continually increasing their value to the company.

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  • Joe Barkan says:

    Good thoughts Capp.

  • Fantastic article..This article was mentioned on Twitter by Gartner which tells about the data center staffing.