The Disappearing SysAdmin

Job posting: IT staff to manage company transition to the cloud. Introverted, technophile, hands-on type sysadmins need not apply.

Of course an actual job description would never say that. It would use words like "Leading project meetings" or "Working closely with staff". All implying that the job now is focused on people rather than the computers. Much of this is thanks to cloud computing. It's reshaping more than just where data and applications are hosted. Companies are discovering they don’t need the traditional sysadmin. The days of a sysadmin performing installations, configurations, updating, and servicing the in-house IT solution are coming to an end. More companies are striving to become “serverless” as they transition their infrastructure to the cloud or outsource much of the IT support.

For many small to medium businesses that couldn’t afford much of an IT backbone, the change makes perfect sense. A recent study of SMBs by Microsoft revealed that the number of very small companies (2-10 employees) using the cloud will triple in the next three years.

Another study by Morgan Stanley shows that the number of enterprises that use the cloud will grow from 28% last year to 51% by 2014. While these large corporations probably will never be 100% cloud (at least for the foreseeable future) the number of IT staff will certainly be reduced during the transition. And those that remain will begin to find that their jobs are changing.

The push to converged infrastructure will reduce the need for IT staff even further, as the amount of hardware, networking equipment, and cabling is reduced. Consolidated management software makes provisioning servers as simple as a few clicks. Virtualized I/O means no more dealing with a mess of cables every time the configuration changes.

These changes generally make a sysadmins life much easier, but it also reduces the need for their skills. So what is a sysadmin to do?

Most discussions on the topic suggest sysadmins be proactive and become more business focused. That can be a tall order for the traditional sysadmin that is highly skilled, but generally prefers computers to people. But in the world of IT nothing stays the same very long. Technology developments happen at a fast pace, and businesses and people either keep up with it or not. In the case of sysadmins, not keeping up with it may mean not keeping their job.

Do you think IT staff, and sysadmins in particular, will disappear entirely from businesses in favor of the support offered by cloud providers or outsource IT companies?