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Accidental Cloud Administrator

Accidental DBA is a term most IT pros are familiar with, and traditionally it describes an “on-top task” for the SysAdmin. It was followed by the “involuntary security admin,” a task carried out by network admins, as back in the days it was all about securing the perimeter. Now there are the clouds, but whose responsibility is it? Surely the SysAdmin again, as it’s just about infrastructure? But then there’s VPNs and BGP and load balancers—network territory! Each year, SolarWinds surveys around 1,000 businesses of various sectors, sizes, and locations for its annual IT Trends Report. In 2020, the report shows approximately 30% of all organizations keep on checking out use cases for the latest tech like artificial intelligence (AI) and edge computing, but the focus is in the here and now. Exactly 50% of all current staffing needs are around cloud computing, with an additional 35% on hybrid needs in particular. The sad news is 41% of the current workforce feel they don’t bring the necessary skills, so let’s have a look at it. The cloud is in fact, on a very basic level, another form of infrastructure, but cannot be identified as “just another data center,” which would provide more clear rules of responsibility within the trinity of storage, compute, and networking. In enterprise, there’s likely a cloud team consisting of dedicated architects and administrators who achieved certifications in one or multiple cloud providers and can spend all their time focusing on maintaining and optimizing. But in most organizations, unfortunately, the reality is a little different and current budget constraints don’t look promising.

So, how much can you ask?

In IT, wearing multiple hats is normal. It’s fine because we’re interested in technology in general and if there’s something new on the horizon, we would like to know a little more about it. But it becomes a problem if an individual is fully utilized, so all stakeholders must be aware of the current workload, and the risk of some tasks getting dropped. Each cloud provider offers documentation and training, and even exams to prove yourself. But it’s good advice to investigate third-party training created by knowledge transfer experts. IT professionals are used to “learning by doing,” playing with technology, and watching YouTube tutorials. While studying cloud technology, this could result in costly mistakes as everyone has a somewhat solid understanding already, but it’s easy to ignore details. It’s a good idea to use existing expertise as a base and build up specific cloud-based knowledge on top of it. So, again, if you’re a network admin, start looking into the various ways to connect the cloud to the traditional network. What starts with a quick screening of available VPN technologies can help to get an understanding of the routing options in use, and how the providers lay out their services in availability zones. You will also learn about the cost of data transfer, which is a very important lesson and often overlooked. The traditional SysAdmin will probably start with the familiar concept of virtual machines in the cloud before looking into containers, and developers enjoy the ideas of infrastructure as a code and creating application paths, as it’s an easy way to upskill. Individual team members can further cross-train themselves. The network admin, for example, doesn’t need to know how to architect infrastructure as code, but an understanding of what it is and where it could make sense is beneficial. Security is a bit of a special topic. In general, clouds come with the concept of “shared responsibility” which says the provider takes care of the underlying infrastructure but securing access to individual resources remains in the hands of the customers. Because of the complexity, it can make sense for all involved parties to discuss security together. It helps mitigate risks, and everyone can remind themselves the concept of “my own four walls” doesn’t apply to the cloud. Ultimately, it’s in the responsibility of the IT director and above to make sure staff is sufficiently trained to be able to fulfill the tasks as required by the business. So, right now it might be a good idea if the 41% from above bring up additional training needs as a topic in team meetings or individual discussions.

If everything fails.

Say there’s zero time left to study, and the whole team is heavily overutilized, and this isn’t just a snapshot but an ongoing thing. In a perfect world the solution would be to increase the headcount, since no one knows where we’re heading in the coming months/years, that’s probably not an option. External resources are always available, either long term in the form of a managed service provider, or short term in the form of project-based consultants. Both bring external expertise to the organization and bridge knowledge gaps, help on a case-by-case contract, or do everything for you. Sounds tempting, and why not?
Sascha Giese
Sascha Giese holds various technical certifications, including being a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA), Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), VMware…
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