Not technology but people are the biggest challenge in IT

Everything is coming back, especially in technology. Over the past decades, we have reinvented hot water several times. From the ways we build and use machines to the skills needed to manage systems. However, to find solutions to contemporary problems, such as the shortage of IT profiles, it is best to look to the past.

Many Belgians are rather hesitant about new technology and developments such as virtualization. We cling tenaciously to what we know, even if the basis of that technology is less new than we think. If we compare recent evolutions with earlier decades and old IT systems, we can even recognize a pattern of repetition. We will have to agree with our former history teacher: knowing the past helps to understand the future. It starts at the level of the technology itself.

Do you know the following mainframe operating systems? VM (Virtual Machine), VSE (Virtual System Environment) and MVS (Multiple Virtual Systems). Even half a century ago, the term ‘virtual’ was already mentioned. In fact, such a mainframe offered one unit of capacity that was divided into several compartments. In this way, users could run all kinds of applications in virtual environments.

New technology or back to the past?

In the following years, mini-systems were introduced, such as departments in companies that invested in their own “mini” system. For example, there was an operating system such as OS/400 on AS/400, the later i-series from IBM) that managed everything – from networking and storage to compute power. In addition, it was possible to add hard drives on an as-needed basis and grow the entire drive capacity without re-segmentation to provide more storage capacity for users.

Around the turn of the century, the step was taken from mini to micro systems with X86 servers that became financially feasible for everyone. As a result, organizations, such as hospitals, suddenly had their own system for each department (patient administration, radiology, lab, etc.). In practice, this was not efficient, as all those machines were often running at less than 20 percent of their capacity. This gave rise to the idea of ​​using the reverse movement: bringing all the elements together and making it one big whole (the new mainframe?) again. The intelligent component was thus removed from the separate compartments and taken to a higher level via virtualization with the new name: software-defined data center.

When you examine this evolution, it is astonishing that people have hesitated for so long to allow virtualization on their machines.

Luc Costers, Country Lead Nutanix Belux & Eastern Europe

In short, if you take a closer look at this evolution, it’s astonishing that people have hesitated for so long to allow virtualization on their machines. And it is equally surprising that sometimes there is still doubt about switching to Hyper Converged Infrastructure (HCI). In fact, the mainframe and some mini-systems were already a kind of HCI machine that you could control with a single system. Thanks to the AOS operating system from Nutanix, we can now bring compute power, storage and networking back together just like in the past.

Solution for shortage of IT profiles

We also see developments at the level of the skills of IT specialists that correspond to the past. Who does not remember the Cobol specialists who were convinced that they would be working with Cobol until the end of their days. In the meantime, Cobol has been replaced by many other languages ​​and these programmers have had to retrain.

The same evolution is now pressing for other IT profiles who cling to the certificates they hold. For companies, it could even offer a solution to the shortage of profiles on the labor market. Only a limited number of organizations are able to hire a separate person for each layer – from storage and security to database and operating systems. And thanks to HCI, that is not necessary for anything. The complexity is largely eliminated by automation, specialists can start up new projects while generalists take the management of a software-defined infrastructure to heart.

Forty years ago I spoke to a hospital director who managed his mini-system with no IT training.

Luc Costers, Country Lead Nutanix Belux & Eastern Europe

Forty years ago I spoke to a hospital director who managed his mini-system with no IT training. Now HCI is doing just the same. Through integration and automation, IT infrastructure upgrades can be compared to the upgrade of a smartphone. A one-click upgrade on the smartphone is followed in the data center and saves a lot of overtime and unavailability windows.

Just as a smartphone user is not an IT specialist, many new graduates can be attracted to the IT sector. The rhetoric of organizations such as Agoria complaining about a shortage of IT profiles is therefore wrong: instead of continuing to look for more and more specialists, an evolution towards a simple on-premises cloud architecture may be the solution. Automation drastically reduces the number of “keep it running” profiles, which in turn are freed up for new attractive assignments. Hardware becomes a commodity and the integration of new elements is solved by software. The IT profiles of tomorrow will no longer be packed with masses of hardware-related certificates, but with new applications that can be developed and deployed at lightning speed on a very reliable private or public cloud platform.

The problem starts with us

It all seems very simple, but these evolutions are difficult to accept. We remain stuck in an old world and there may be all kinds of explanations for this. Quite a few IT sales channels have a business model based on significant service. The removal of installation assistance, health checks, upgrade standby hours and so much more means that HCI solutions are not always seen as a revenue generator. A shift from infrastructure assistance to assistance in achieving application SLAs needs to be made, which requires a completely different approach.

Due to the shortage of profiles, organizations often work with contractors who come to support them a few days a week. Over time, the umbilical cord between such a contractor and a company only becomes stronger and more difficult to cut. Before getting involved with new technology, economical buyers inform their technical team (and by extension, contractors) about the risks of such migrations. The advice can often be guessed, since automation does not serve self-interest…

Unless there is a change of mentality, we are in a street without end. In addition, companies must also focus more on a training program that offers people a horizon with which they can continue in the next ten years. We need to get rid of the tendency to cling to what we know and be open to discovering new things. And if that succeeds, we will soon notice that these new things actually feel much more familiar than first thought. Thanks to Jos Martens, my history teacher: he was right.

This is a contribution submitted by Luc Costers, Country Lead Nutanix Belux & Eastern Europe. For more information about the company’s solutions, click here.

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