The Future of the Virtualization Administrator



by Kong Yang

This article is the first in a two-part series. Read the second part here.

For seasoned virtualization professionals, the changes brought about by the adoption of hybrid IT may seem somewhat troubling. After all, in years past, the most exciting, compelling enterprise technology advancements, including virtualization, were designed for their on-premises data center. However, with the growth of cloud and adjacent technologies stealing the spotlight, including containerization and server-less architecture, modern virtualization administrators are now facing a critical turning point in their careers. They are wondering how they remain relevant and successful in an industry when that elusive “it” factor is increasingly migrating away from things like virtualization and more toward the cloud and as-a-service offerings.

Similar to the career upheaval faced by our systems, network, and database administrator colleagues in the wake of virtualization over the years, virtualization administrators now need to adapt and grow our skill sets over the next several years. It is imperative in order to succeed in such a rapidly evolving industry. In a nutshell, everything—even the cloud—is an abstraction of existing technology. And although change is imminent, this newer, cloudier landscape is only a threat to IT professionals who are standing still, unwilling to learn new things.

The virtualization administrator’s challenge
Arguably, one of the most daunting changes impacting today’s virtualization landscape is the advancement of management tools via automation and orchestration software. As these tools mature—they now offer predictive analytics and recommendations capabilities—it is entirely possible to automate the entire lifecycle of a virtual machine or virtualized tiered environment. Everything from provisioning, prepping, and deploying a virtual machine can now be automated, seemingly rendering the virtualization administrator role redundant.

However, this is a classic “you can’t see the forest for the trees” scenario, and the reality is very much to the contrary. Automation and orchestration advancements in virtualization management are a blessing, not a threat. The new features and functionalities of these tools offer us the opportunity to spend less energy on mundane activities, routine maintenance, and troubleshooting, and more time on education, recertification, and research into the growth opportunities that will ensure we retain a place in the modern data center.

What’s most important to note is that remaining relevant—even in such a rapidly changing industry—does not mean starting fresh. Certainly, we will need to invest time and resources to learn new technologies and how they can be integrated into our organizations’ current infrastructure deployments, but the majority of skills needed to be successful in the future are already in our repertoire.

Bridging the gap: from challenge to opportunity
Specifically, management and monitoring skills like the DART (discovery, alerting, remediation, troubleshooting) and SOAR (security, optimization, automation, reporting) frameworks will serve virtualization specialists well as we look to transform our role in the coming years. Many of virtualization’s own challenges—utilization saturation, right-sizing workloads, appropriate resource allocation, etc.—are present in cloud computing and as-a-service solutions, as well. Instead of provisioning a virtual machine and thinking about which OS and IT protocols to prep it with, for example, virtualization specialists that are able to evolve up the stack alongside cloud service providers will be able to use existing skillsets to architect and deliver tiered applications in order to present a digital experience to a mobile end-user.

The ability to quickly identify and troubleshoot the root cause of performance problems, as well as optimize host environments and leverage reporting to inform future strategy are all transferable skills that will serve us well as born-in-the-cloud technologies permeate the data center.

At the same time, cloud service providers like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, IBM SoftLayer and Google Cloud, to name a few, are actively recruiting IT professionals with enterprise infrastructure management experience. These service providers’ roots are in the DevOps space and can benefit from the operations insight and techniques that enterprise IT professionals bring to the conversation.  Moreover, for virtualization professionals who move to a role with a cloud service provider, the management requirements of the physical infrastructure stack are still there. They are just tweaked for the cloud: optimizing the digital experience for end-users, ensuring performance standards for SLAs, leveraging automation for scale, etc.

Of course, there are also a handful of new soft skills we should consider cultivating, as well, starting with honing our ability to productize a solution for business operations. The more we can become a liaison between the data center and business leadership, helping to sell in relevant solutions from a technical standpoint to internal stakeholders, the more critical we will become to our organizations.

For administrators who want to remain virtualization specialists, the ability to script your own code will be key, as software-defined data centers provide ample opportunities for customization via the abstraction layer. For those interested in moving to an automated, ops-centric role, additional capabilities and familiarity with Microsoft Powershell and PowerCLI, as well as other subtle nuances around those automation tools, are crucial.

Kong Yang is the head geek at SolarWinds.

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