9 hot jobs in the evolving data center

Data-center pros looking to ride technology waves toward more secure careers need both technical and people skills.

A developer / engineer / technician works with servers, wires, and cables in a data center.
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As data centers evolve, the skills needed to run them change as well, creating both a challenge and opportunity for current data-center workers.

By necessity, modern data centers are at the forefront of efficiency for energy consumption, space utilization and automation. That efficiency extends to the personnel that staffs them and who must swiftly implement hardware, software, and architecture changes as best practices improve. That calls for new roles in administration, management, and planning.

Existing career fields and legacy skill sets won’t cut it in many cases, but IT pros will be able to augment their existing skills to fill new roles as they open up—jobs with a more forward-looking focus.

With that in mind, here’s a look at nine new positions being created  to facilitate the key aspects of running a data center, and what skills form the foundation of those positions.

Hybrid Solutions Architect

Ultimately, a Hybrid Solutions Architect must identify the technical components needed to meet customer requirements and to articulate a solution to the customer. This position is likely design-heavy, but also requires operational knowledge of a wide range of applications, hardware, and services that could lend themselves to the needs of individual projects. So in order to weigh a wide range of potential options, the architect needs a broad and deep knowledge of cloud services, storage, virtual machines, application platforms, and high-availability solutions, among others.

The role calls for creating the overall architecture vision, but the architect must also be able to work effectively with team members from specialized disciplines in order to fill in details needed to create a deployment plan. The role also calls for querying admins and others who will have to work within the architecture in order to discover what features their jobs require, then have enough sales savvy to satisfy them that the plan meets their needs.

Director of Operations

Anyone who has worked in IT for any length of time knows that catastrophic failures are a rarity, but if you aren’t prepared, recovering from them is often impossible. The Director of Operations is responsible for ensuring the data center runs as designed with zero downtime, which means making sure performance and reliability requirements are met. This position already exists in many businesses, but it is evolving as workload density increases and as technologies like container-based applications take hold. This individual may also have a role in tracking and projecting runtime costs and hardware lifecycle. Because of the 24/7 nature of the job, it is likely a management position.

Key skills include familiarity with monitoring for performance and reliability, as well as devising high-availability strategies and continuity of operations. The Director of Operations should have experience in developing these strategies and ensuring adherence to change-management policies.

Application Platform Engineer

The primary responsibilities of the Application Platform Engineer are twofold and stem from the strengths of containerized applications. Ensuring that application platforms fully support the rapid iteration involved with the Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery pipeline (CI/CD) process is of primary importance. This helps optimize development resources and helps developers rapidly react to changing customer needs. The second main responsibility is optimizing for performance and scalability, both of which should be a given in the foundation of the application stack.

The Application Platform Engineer is responsible for containers and all aspects of a modern DevOps environment, including CI/CD, cluster configuration, secrets management, ephemeral and persistent storage, and concepts surrounding orchestration. Consequently, familiarity with container platforms like Docker, Kubernetes, and Red Hat OpenShift is a must. This is not necessarily a developer position, but an understanding of development concepts and the ability to interact with developers to discuss their needs is critical.

Public-Policy Program Manager

Not many things progress at the rate of technology, but legal requirements and corporate policy are just as much of a moving target. The Public-Policy Program Manager must have the ability to identify laws and regulations—state, federal, and international—that apply to industry best practices. These requirements may be technical in nature, spanning both hardware and software, but could also relate to infrastructure such as backup power and physical security. Because data-center policies must meet a minimum technical threshold in order to comply with legal requirements, the Public Policy Program Manager must have a corresponding level of technical ability—particularly in security.

Once requirements are identified, the manager must produce and maintain policy documents, which calls for a set of administrative skills. Documents may require specific verbiage based on the customer’s business segment, and in some cases boilerplate policies should be created to use as templates to streamline their creation. Additionally, procedures for policy enforcement and monitoring must be developed, and automation tools should be leveraged whenever possible in order to make the process both efficient and consistent.

Strategy Program Manager

Few positions require as much foresight and inside information (requiring tight relationships with vendors) as the Strategy Program Manager. An awareness of industry trends is crucial to help inform future planning efforts. This position is responsible for developing long-term strategy for the entire data center, which means the hardware lifecycle, software innovations, and the evolution of best practices in architecture.

The job also calls for technical knowledge of key areas such as server hardware components, storage hardware and protocols, application platforms, and high availability. This knowledge must be practical so the manager can recognize weaknesses with existing solutions and evaluate how the industry is evolving to mitigate those weaknesses. The Strategy Program manager must maintain awareness of enterprise capacity and workloads in order to project future needs. The ability to create flexible strategies is essential to minimize risk and facilitate alternatives if issues arise or technology trends change.

Director of Network and Connectivity

Few aspects of the data center require as much planning and monitoring as the networking components. The Director of Network and Connectivity is a highly technical position, and this individual should have in-depth knowledge and experience at all levels of the OSI model including media types, networking hardware, and protocols. Experience with strategies and best practices in fault-tolerance and flexibility, particularly network virtualization or network as a service [NaaS], are also key assets. An understanding of best practices in performance, security, and monitoring considerations such as VLANs and trunk ports, and firewalls and DMZ networks also add value. This experience should encompass both design and troubleshooting skills to quickly remediate and ultimately fix network problems at all layers of the OSI model.

The Director of Network and Connectivity should work closely with Director of Operations on day-to-day monitoring and management of network components, as well as with the Strategy Program Manager to develop modernization strategies.

IT Hardware Manager

Like the Director of Network and Connectivity, the IT Hardware manager bears responsibility for both the daily operation and maintenance of existing computing and storage hardware, as well as planning for future growth and optimization. The manager should be able to get the most out of existing infrastructure by properly provisioning workloads on appropriate hardware, taking into considering CPU, GPU, memory, and storage needs. The job requires demonstrated skills in designing computing systems to meet usage requirements, with knowledge of troubleshooting and maintaining system hardware. Experience monitoring hardware health and planning maintenance with zero downtime is important given the scale and density of data centers. Certifications such as the Server+ cert from CompTia is a bonus, as are applicable vendor certifications from Dell, HP Enterprise, and others. The IT Hardware Manager should be comfortable teaming with the Strategy Program Manager when planning for growth and identifying appropriate hardware based on workload, budget, and flexibility.

Data Science Specialist

The Data Science Specialist has potential to be involved with multiple roles in a data center. For example, the long-term plans the Strategy Program Manager develops in cooperation with the Directory of Network and Connectivity as well as the IT Hardware Manager could benefit from machine learning, and the hardware components that make up the data center can provide a wealth of sensor data to be analyzed. This position requires skill in building data models, experience in big data analysis and machine learning, and a fundamental knowledge of optimizing performance through hardware and software configuration.

Individual applications hosted in the data center could also make use of machine learning to ensure they are running optimally. Even the Hybrid Solutions Architect could draw on the expertise of the Data Science Specialist to identify opportunities to leverage machine learning for customer workloads.

SOAR Engineer

With the density of components in a data center, the task of manually monitoring system logs, even individually, is a non-starter. Security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) is a modern take on enterprise security which uses machine learning to analyze log events from components across the network, correlate them with known threat patterns, and automate first steps toward mitigation. The SOAR Engineer should have a firm grasp on potential threats, the measure of risk involved with each, and potential mitigation and remediation steps.

Because SOAR relies heavily on both machine learning and automation, the SOAR Engineer should have experience with machine-learning and scripting languages such as Python and PowerShell that are commonly used in automation. Coordination with key stakeholders in the day-to-day operation of the data center is crucial to maintain the appropriate security posture and visibility into each component.

At the end of the day, data center security cannot be fully automated, and security events will require analysis to determine both the extent of the damage and the root cause. While the SOAR will help with both branches of the investigation, ultimately the SOAR Engineer team will need to fully investigate security events and propose solutions to prevent subsequent exploits.


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