Cloud computing: More work for admins

NEW YORK ' Pundits have widely predicted that cloud computing will minimize ' if not eliminate ' the need for organizations to maintain large IT infrastructures. But Alistair Croll, a principal analyst for consulting coalition BitCurrent, argues that moving to Internet-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings, "won't eliminate work [but will] just change the work," for IT administrators.

The administrator's job will "move from racking and stacking to clicking and dragging," Croll said, during a presentation on SaaS at the Interop conference, being held this week in New York. The job will shift from managing computers to managing computing resources, the day.

Certainly, by moving to a SaaS offering to handle some IT functions, an organization eliminates the need to buy and maintain servers and software in-house, both of which are normally under the charge of the IT professional. But as cloud computing services proliferate within the enterprise, additional duties will also pop up on the administrator's to-do list, Croll said.

Croll based his reasoning on what he called the law of unintended consequences. He likened the emergence of SaaS to that of the rise of home appliances in the early part of last century. Despite the advent of modern conveniences such as irons and washing machines, we spend about the same amount of work toiling within the home as we ever did.

"The amount of hours of housework per week has almost not changed at all, from 1914 to 1965," Croll said. "Wasn't this stuff supposed to save us time?"

But as conveniences made individual chores easier, the number of chores and the degree to which chores are being done changed dramatically.

"I think we will see a very similar change when we get to cloud computing. We will have these unforeseen consequences, things we didn't realize will happen," he said. "They'll probably keep us just as busy as we were before."

What sort of new duties will administrators be tasked with?

One major set of duties will be simply managing all the SaaS services that an organization will be using. "We will put together lots and lots of tools to manage the offerings," Croll said.

Croll's own firm, BitCurrent, only has less than 10 employees, and yet it uses more than 20 SaaS offerings, such as Wordpress, FeedBurner, Google Analytics and eBay's PayPal. All of the services an organization uses will need to be measured against performance metrics, to ensure the organization is getting its money's worth. And the performance will also need to be checked against the billing, especially with the pay-as-you-go payment methods.

Another duty will be security. For instance, one of the biggest shortcomings of cloud computing is a lack of any sort of standard for single sign-on. So when an employee quits, the administrator needs to make sure all the appropriate accounts at all the SaaS outlets are closed.

Data management will be yet another duty. The organization will need to make sure that its data remains independent from the SaaS provider, so the organization could move it to a competing SaaS provider if necessary. If the organization's data is not easily moved off the service, then the provider can charge more for that service, in effect holding the organization's data for ransom.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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