Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt espouses that from the dawn of time through 2003, human civilization has generated approximately 5 exabytes of aggregate information. Other experts place our current data consumption rate even higher. IDC pegged the digital universe at 2.7 zettabytes in 2012, up 48 percent over 2011.
According to consultants Gartner, the data centre industry is going to be worth annually in the region of £150m by 2015. A recent report by Digital Reality shows that 90 percent of IT decision-makers at large companies will be increasing their data centre footprint this year and 70 percent confirmed they already had expanded their footprint in the last two years. According to figures from UK think-tank, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), this industry will create almost 300,000 new jobs between 2012 and 2015 in cloud computing services.
Computers today may be holding the data, but people are still needed to architect the software and manage it. In an industry this size, the UK cannot afford a skills shortage in data centre management. But this is exactly what we have. Behind this colossal growth in information is the non-stop activity of social networks, blogs, online purchases and user’s data that is recorded globally and 24/7. The problem seems to be that the amount of data that we are creating is growing far faster than our technical skills. Plus, we also have to consider keeping all that data and personal information secure. And of course, this all has to take place on an application that resides on a server, connected to a network, within a building – the data centre, with a qualified team to manage it.
CompTIA’s IT Skills Gap study earlier this year found that 93 percent of UK executives rate data centre management skills as important. And, more importantly, 40 percent of UK executives express concern about possible skills gaps in that area.
Data centre work can be stressful, and reliability is a key skill in staff. One operations manager of a large data centre I met summed it up nicely, saying “You are typically working in a high-availability environment where customer uptime is critical and downtime means loss of revenue.” Failure is not an option. Data failure or breach for a major bank, social networking platform or a telecommunications company usually becomes front page news with serious consequences for the data centre if staff are at fault.
It’s a tough job – but an important one. But it’s a rare area where jobs are being created. It’s in everyone’s interest that we have the right people to fill those jobs.
Skills start in school...
The debate around IT skills shortages usually starts with schools. Indeed, the IT skills gap has gained a lot of media attention, and it is good to see that the government has taken action with a new school curriculum. However, it remains to be seen how good or useful this new curriculum will be to data centre management. Much of the debate has surrounded coding and programming, with little mention of the booming data centre industry. But it has to be remembered that information technology is a very large and broad industry with a mixture of business and technical roles and just educating more people into coding and programming is not going to resolve the skills gap. So, it is hoped for that this new curriculum for September has had a broad input from all fields in IT, including the role of data centres.
...but they continue over a lifetime
Of course, it is easy to blame the education system for the IT skills gap, as one IT firm commented recently, “We’re faced with having to sift through a lot of graduates who are of little use to us, who have often been encouraged to take 'business' or 'entrepreneurship' modules rather than practically applicable skills that are useful to an employer!”
But it’s not the sole responsibility of schools to pre-train employees. Schools are there to educate basic skills and prepare their students for whatever choices they make in life, not train them for specialist roles. That is the role of the employer and specialist training qualifications.
Finding the right people
Figures out this month have shown that there are a million 16 – 25 year olds out of work and they are facing the toughest job and education outlook since 1994. Worst still, frequent reports illustrate the wariness of employers to take on our emerging generations, denouncing them as lazy or without the right skills.
Paul Brown, director at The Prince’s Trust commented in a newspaper report that, “There is an alarming number of unemployed young people who lack the skills and confidence they need to find work, and it is these young people that need urgent support.”
So, in a world of growing career choices and a lack of understanding about what the data centre industry really offers, an education system which doesn’t really prepare people for the industry and recruitment for the new jobs could be a tough challenge.
I firmly believe that nurturing talent is the way to start resolving this issue.
The many recent school and college leavers who are struggling to find work offer hope for the way out of the skills gap. We need to start training them up with on-the-job training with basic pay packets until they reach the required standard. Spending 6-12 months training a keen entrant is much better than not having the skills or losing out on lucrative contracts to competitors who do.
This training also will help them to gain industry certifications, which will be important for their future careers, as well motivating them to keep learning. Passing key industry qualifications should produce competent data centre managers, ready to embark on a successful career in the industry. Examples of these include our own CompTIA A+ which is designed to assess key hardware basics, our more specialist qualifications in areas like security and storage, and technology-specific qualifications from organisations like Cisco.
Current data centre staff cannot be forgotten either, as they are just as important. The industry isn’t always recognised for its career progression opportunities, so regular training and new training in the data centre skills lacking is another valuable way of appreciating staff and closing the gap. Professionals may bemoan having to take time to train these new industry starters, but it will be worth the effort in years to come. As with any changing technologies, the skills are not going to appear from nowhere and experience in the field is going to need time to develop.
If there aren’t enough qualified candidates, the industry will have to take responsibility for training them as well as offering good rewards and incentives to stay and continue to improve. Perhaps the most important factor when recruiting is finding candidates who can demonstrate enthusiasm and willingness to learn – if they have these qualities, the company can provide them with the skills they need for a modest outlay. The return will be competent, skilled staff who can run data centres and deliver returns to the business. The cost of not doing it could be lost business and embarrassing security failures.
Tags: Design & Facilities Management, Power & Cooling