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Addressing the cloud technology skills shortage within UK business

In this podcast we are posing the question, "Are UK businesses struggling to match IT skills with the demands for cloud computing?"

To help us answer this, Fabio Torlini, VP of Rackspace joins us to talk about what its clients are experiencing and how they are helping the industry address and solve the skills shortage created by the rapid pace of change. Please note that the text below is an edited transcript of the interview.

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Let’s set this into context first of all. We hear a lot about the growth of cloud technology within business but what are the levels of usage at the moment?

In terms of cloud, recent research by IDC reports that about two-thirds of companies are starting to implement some kind of cloud solution already, so it’s becoming more and more popular. And it's something which is growing if you look at all of the forecasts, whether they are from Gartner, IDC or Forrester, or whoever, cloud is going through the roof and will continue to be a main part of IT technology for the nearer long term.

What we are finding is, as people have started to implement cloud they are utilising it in a similar way to previous technology - like dedicated servers - and so are not gaining or utilising its full potential and capability to ensure they are maximising their cost saving and improving performance. As companies are starting to become more and more cloud savvy, they want to utilise the technology in much more depth and to its full potential. This is where they are starting to encounter issues and problems in terms of skills sets and resourcing.

So do most of these businesses manage these in-house already?

Well, cloud is a technology platform and whether you are building your own private cloud platform in-house or whether you are utilising a public cloud platform - be it Amazon or our own Rackspace platform - before you get involved you need be aware of the toolsets out there and whether you need to develop API’s for that particular cloud in order to tell it what to do. You need to become familiar with these tools so you can understand how to architect it properly and scale it up, so your it is as flexible as you need it to be.

What we are finding, now, is that certain companies, which have been utilising the cloud for a while, are starting to realise that public cloud is just one aspect. To really get the optimum performance level and cost saving, you actually need to start integrating different cloud infrastructures, be it private cloud with public cloud or maybe even utilising some of the more traditional technologies with cloud. To do that, you really need to know what you are doing and IT companies are running into a few issues here.

Is the shortage of expertise within cloud driving up costs for businesses and is this proving to be a barrier for organisations looking to migrate?

If you employ cloud experts, I think an increase in staff costs can be expected, but the other option is of course to train your internal IT teams. This won't raise costs massively and will drive employee engagement - all IT staff and developers want to learn about the latest technology and [with the right engagement] they can develop themselves and be better IT personnel while improving their job prospects. So if you want to invest in your staff in this manner, I think you will actually reduce employee churn.

So what is Rackspace doing to bridge this knowledge gap within the UK?

Two different routes. First, we have launched the cloud academy in the US and we will be looking to bring that across to the UK at some point. But in the short term, we are offering OpenStack training and will be flying out our people from the US on a regular basis to provide OpenStack training sessions in our offices, which people can come along to.

Second, we are also developing a team, here, called a 'Customer Success Team' and their only role is to work with our cloud customers to actually give them help and advice as to how to develop their applications on top of our API platform, and to really make sure they're getting the most out of our infrastructure. So we're actually helping customers looking to develop a cloud infrastructure as well as those who are already using our cloud infrastructure. Both customers can get the most out of it while making sure it's as cost-effective as possible.

Is there a lack of awareness among companies of how to get support and expertise into their teams in order to support cloud technology in their businesses?

I do think it is a young industry and the UK is slightly behind the US. If you look at the US and the number of companies that actually do OpenStack implementation and OpenStack training, it is quite a large number and they are getting significant amounts of funding as well. If you look where we are today, Amazon was the first from a cloud perspective but since we launched OpenStack you have companies like HP, Red Hat, Dell and IBM all supporting OpenStack and allowing people to download it - and their own versions of it - from their websites or actually creating OpenStack public clouds. So, there's a lot of momentum there but it's early and a lot of these companies are cropping up and they are getting the funding but of course it will take some time [for adoption and distribution]. We are doing what we can to help ease the situation.

Cloud is going to continue to grow – what can we do to start addressing the skill shortage for the future?

There is a lot that can be done and we've been reaching out to universities to see what we can do to get cloud computing on the curriculum. The more we can do and invest, earlier; the more our IT personnel in this country will be ready to handle these new technologies. And the more we can get out of these new technologies as a country; the more it will benefit us and help us grow. I think it is very important that we get to the grassroots level to actually help the universities get ready to train their staff on cloud technologies.

Surely other areas of new technology within IT must be seeing a similar skill shortage due to the rapid pace that everything changes at?

In general, yes. IT has always had that issue. IT changes on a continual basis and there are always new technologies and versions coming out. Once upon a time, Lotus Notes was massive; then it was Exchange, and now those services have become old and technology has moved on. Technology changes a lot and obviously IT staffing, internally, needs to keep up with those new technologies. From that perspective, I think it is very important that investment always needs to go into your staff.