Cloud fixes everything. Well, no it doesn’t. But cloud technology is finally coming out of the trough of disillusionment and entering the plateau of productivity. That means as people take cloud technologies more seriously and look at practical hybrid-cloud solutions for their businesses, engineers of all stripes are going to need to expand their skills outside their beloved silos. 


Rather than focusing only on storage or networking or application development, there is great value in IT professionals designing and building cloud solutions knowing a little bit about the entire cloud stack.


The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as “a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”


We call it a “cloud stack” because of all the components built one on top of another. This includes elements such as networking, storage, virtualization, compute, load-balancing, application development tools, and more specific to operations, things like user account management, logging, and authentication services. These are all built right in to the IaaS cloud.


But when looking at the overall picture, the overall cloud stack, IaaS exists as the foundation for the Platform as a Service, such as development tools, web servers and database servers, which in turn serves as a platform for Software as a Service, such as email and virtual desktops.


So when an IT professional is looking at a cloud solution for their organization, regardless of their background and specific area of expertise, there’s a clear need to be able to understand a little bit about networking, a little bit about storage, a little bit about virtualization, even little bit about application development. Sure, there’s still a need for experts in each one of those areas, but when looking at an overall cloud (or more realistically hybrid-cloud) initiative, a technical engineer or architect must understand all those components to some extent to design, spec, build, and maintain the environment.


I really believe this has always been the case, though, at least for good engineers. The really good IT pros have always had some level of understanding of these other areas. Personally, as a network engineer, I’ve had to spin up VMs, provision storage and work with validation platforms to one extent or another from the very beginning of my career, and I don’t consider myself that great of an engineer.


When I put in new data center switching and firewalling solution, I’m sitting down with someone from the storage team, Linux team, Windows team, virtualization team, and maybe even the security team. Often I need to be able to speak to all of those areas because of how, when it comes down to it, our individual sections of the infrastructure really all work together in one environment.


Cloud is no different

All those components still exist in a cloud solution, so when IT pros look at an overall design, there’s discussion about network connectivity, bandwidth and latency, storage capacity, what sort of virtualization platform to run, and what sort of UI to use to deliver the actual application to the end-user. The only difference now is that the cloud stack is one orchestrated organism rather than many more disparate silos to address individually.


For example, how will a particular application that lives in AWS perform over the latency of a company’s new SD-WAN solution?


And in my experience, I see hybrid-cloud approach more than anything else which requires very careful consideration of networking between the organization and the cloud provider and how applications can be delivered in a hybrid environment.


I love this, though, because I love technology, building things, and making things work. So the idea that I have to stretch myself outside of my cozy networking comfort zone is an exciting challenge I’m looking forward to.


Cloud doesn’t fix everything, but organizations are certainly taking advantage of the benefits of moving some of their applications and services to today’s popular cloud provider platforms. This means that IT pros need a breadth of knowledge to provide the depth of technical skill a cloud design requires and today’s organizations demand.