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The new virtualization engineer: Breaking down siloes in your skills

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Whether you refer to the new data center as the software-defined data center (SDDC), the cloud, or just plain old virtualization, it all amounts to the same thing: agile provisioning of converged storage, compute and network resources. For that to occur, the siloes among storage, networking and systems teams must come down. And as this transformation in the IT organization occurs, so too will the engineer’s job description. We’ll see the rise of a new IT position—the virtualization engineer.

The term “virtualization engineer” once referred to an x86 server administrator who knew how to take a bunch of physical servers and make them virtual machines. But now virtualization engineers typically extend their reach to network and storage virtualization, managing across all three.

The change in the engineer’s role is being driven by a new school of IT products based on the tenets of converged infrastructure. Nutanix’ new Virtual Computing Platform is a perfect example of this. Virtual Computing Platform consolidates storage and compute into a single tier and enables management across storage, servers and networking from a unified box.

That leads one to ask: Who manages the Nutanix solution? Is it the storage team? The systems team? Networking folks? The answer is the new virtualization engineer.

This demand for a cross-discipline engineer is only going to continue to grow with the rise of network virtualization. In the past, integrating virtual x86 infrastructures with the network looked a lot like putting lipstick on a pig—a little prettier, but still a pig. But it will become a reality if VMware delivers the goods with its NSX network virtualization product. What’s more, a number of SDN start-ups are enabling automated provisioning of virtual networks that can be integrated into a holistic orchestration system that manages and provisions across storage and compute. Basically, we are seeing the same type of revolution in networks that we have seen in servers and storage; this transition will require engineers who understand the new integrated infrastructure and systems.

How do you gain the skills?

Businesses understand that there is a transition underway and they pay guys like me to take a look at their IT operations and align the org charts with their technology roadmaps. They may not understand the nuances of implementing a virtual network, but they understand the business value of operations consolidation.

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That means businesses will be looking for engineers who are well-versed in storage, networking and compute, but who have the ability to go deep in one of the three. This person will likely be part of a team of several skilled professionals responsible for the entire data center infrastructure and not just a single technology pillar.

But how does one get training across disciplines?

Most of us who have cross-discipline skills have achieved this from years of experience working in each part of the field. In that situation, it was a natural progression that developed out of the need to solve technical challenges. But what if you don’t have that opportunity? Unfortunately, there isn’t an “Infrastructure Specialist” certification at the moment. So the answer is probably to undertake a series of certifications that include the Cisco Certified Network Associate, VMware Certified Professional in data center virtualization, or Microsoft/Red Hat Enterprise Linux certifications, as well as at least one vendor course in storage.

Gaining cross-discipline skills may seem like a huge undertaking, but ultimately the convergence that we are seeing in the data center will only continue, and it is bound to change the requirements for engineers in every part of the organization.

Keith Townsend is the founder of Virtualizedgeek.com and is an IT management consultant with more than 15 years of related experience designing, implementing and managing data center technologies. His areas of expertise include virtualization, networking and storage solutions for Fortune 500 organizations. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computing and a master’s degree in information technology from DePaul University.

This was first published in August 2013

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