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Is Your Head in the Clouds?

That may not be a bad thing. Cloud computing is a growing field with exciting opportunities. But do keep your feet on the ground.


There is nothing fuzzy or vague about cloud computing’s appeal. It can save money, sometimes lots of it, by treating computing—and IT generally—as a service that customers pay for as they use it, much as they pay for utilities like electricity or water.

In general, all the user needs is a computer interface with the cloud, which can often be as simple as a Web browser and a menu of options. The mainframe computers, servers, software and data storage reside on the back end, or “cloud.” Where do the savings come from? By sharing resources and services on integrated networks and massive servers, cloud companies can achieve significant economies of scale.

 

Entering the field
Cloud computing is unquestionably a fast-growing field. The global tech firm Forrester Research claims that the market for cloud services was $40 billion in 2011 and will expand to more than $240 billion by 2020. A Microsoft study estimates that cloud computing will create as many as 14 million jobs globally by 2015.

So if you have a technology background or aspirations, the smart move would be to major in cloud computing, right? Not exactly.

Qualifying for the Cloud

When SPAN magazine asked Rackspace, one of the world’s leading cloud providers, what kind of advice they would offer someone considering the field of cloud computing, here is what they had to say:

A quality education is paramount in today’s economy. You are going to need a degree to get ahead in the world of technology today.

Beyond institutional education, you must self-educate in the ever-changing world of cloud computing. Search the Web, get down and dirty and spin up a server, learn different coding languages, understand engineering, human computer interaction and visual design. Grow your cloud computing knowledge by first learning the fundamentals and then dive deep into the cloud.

Here at Rackspace, we have a comprehensive cloud computing program called CloudU, a vendor-neutral curriculum designed for students, business owners and technical professionals who want to bolster their knowledge of the fundamentals of cloud computing. At CloudU, you will find a comprehensive series of original white papers, live and on-demand Webinars, events, blogs, videos and e-books aimed at increasing cloud computing knowledge. You can also earn a CloudU Certificate and enhance your cloud computing résumé as well.

And finally, get involved in the start-up community. All over the world, on a weekly basis, you can find a start-up event happening in your geographic region. New tech meet-ups provide a venue for people to see the latest and greatest technology being built in their own backyards.

Hackathons are held where developers gather and build applications, hack code, learn new skills and make new friends. Networking in the start-up movement allows you to socialize with like-minded people, build a professional network, and possibly find a cofounder for your grand start-up idea.

Check out the Rackspace Blog (http://www.rackspace.com/blog/) on the first of each month for the Global Startup Events Guide which highlights start-up events across the globe.—H.C.

“The foundation of cloud [computing] is IT, of course, and there are specific skills required to support cloud services,” says technology author and researcher Joe McKendrick, who also writes for Forbes magazine. “But technology is only part of the story. Individuals seeking to enter the cloud computing field should have both a working knowledge of business—finance, human resources, marketing—as well as computer skills.”

Many IT professionals already have the necessary skills for cloud computing, according to Bharat Rao, associate professor of technology management at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. “So it’s mainly a question of increasing awareness and getting involved in sample scenarios,” he observes.

In other words, the best qualifications are broad technological training and education, not necessarily specialization in a particular cloud-related application. (See sidebar)

 

Computational power
One of the most striking benefits of cloud computing is that both established companies and aspiring start-ups can access enormous amounts of computational power through major providers like Amazon Web Services and Rackspace.

A common theme of cloud clients is that they no longer have to worry about managing their own networks. The World Triathlon Corporation, for example, which runs the international Ironman athletic competitions, uses Rackspace’s networks of servers to manage the huge spikes in online traffic that occur during their athletic events.

In a Rackspace online video, T.J. Horlacher, CTO of the Web site builder SnapPages, says, “As our demand grows, we need to have giant databases. We don’t have to think about servers anymore. We can spin up new databases on demand. ...That’s a huge advantage for us.”
Cloud computing can also facilitate an expansive and seamless exchange of information. Through its global server, Amazon continues to stream data, images and video of the Mars rover Curiosity, which landed on the planet in August, to viewers throughout the world.

A recent survey by The Economist and IBM cites another example of innovative information exchange: HealthHiway, a health information network in Bangalore.

“By connecting more than 1,100 hospitals and 10,000 doctors,” the report states, “the company’s software-as-a-service solution facilitates better collaboration and information sharing, helping deliver improved care at a low cost, particularly important in growing markets.”

The cloud computing image is quite apt in one respect: the closer you examine the cloud, the harder it becomes to see and define it clearly.

“Don’t be surprised if, in a few years, we stop using the term ‘cloud computing,’ ” says technology analyst McKendrick. “It will be simply computing, and it will be very commonplace to be building and running applications and systems that are hosted elsewhere. So I wouldn’t suggest building a career path around ‘cloud.’ Rather, focus on both IT and business.”

 

Howard Cincotta is a U.S. State Department writer and editor.