When someone like Eric Schmidt, Chairman and ex-CEO of Google, says there’s an IT skills shortage in the UK, it’s time to take notice. On the upside, there are moves to get IT back into the national curriculum, but that will be scant comfort to companies wishing to employ skilled IT professionals. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that it isn’t absolutely clear what skills will be needed. In the words of one university lecturer, “We’re training students for jobs that don’t even exist.” This is true in all areas of IT, from information management and application development, to infrastructure design and systems administration. The result is a challenge for both recruiters and those prospecting for a job. Thinking specifically about the game-changing technology that is server virtualization, we know that it brings both opportunities and challenges for those working on IT’s front line. While virtualization changes how we think about physical infrastructure, it does not replace it – so we need to start with the assumption that the candidate has a well-grounded knowledge of IT architecture, how systems are built, fault-tolerance and so on. The recruitment challenge is to ensure that candidates understand what changes when virtual machines add to the mix. As well as a check-box knowledge and experience of the different virtualization platforms such as VMware, Xen and Microsoft, find below our top five questions to separate the virtualization-savvy from the also-rans.
1. What do you see as the security challenges when it comes to virtualization? While virtualization aids flexibility, it also increases the ‘threat surface’ of the IT environment, and introduces some new risks. The security challenges around virtualization are well-documented, but not necessarily taken into account at the coal face of virtualization.
2. How do you see the relationship between virtualization and cloud computing? Virtualization breaks the bond between processing and physical machines; cloud computing enables the use of scalable processing facilities – offered, by online providers, through virtualization. From an architectural standpoint this begs the question of what should run where, and a clear understanding of the relative cost of processing is essential.
3. How would you approach backup and data protection for virtual systems? Done wrong, virtualization environments can make backups and data protection harder – not only because of the potential for the number of virtual machines to get out of hand (VM sprawl), but also because some existing backup technologies see virtual machines as single files, rather than containers. This causes problems in the length of time to back up, the ability to catalogue, and of course the need to restore efficiently.
4. What is your knowledge and experience of software licensing? While licensing strategy is not strictly a system administration task, the ability to clone, store and run virtual machines at will has put the spotlight on how the systems, database and application software is licensed. Licensing best practice is currently in disarray as different vendors have adopted different strategies, but it is important for administrators to be clear on policy so they don’t inadvertently breach procurement guidelines or contractual law.
5. How would you implement management best practice for a virtual environment? Last, but certainly not least, is the impact virtualization has on how IT services are delivered. Virtualization enables agility and responsiveness, but if it is left uncontrolled it can quickly degenerate. Best practice frameworks such as ITIL are evolving – some say too slowly – to respond to the need to balance flexibility with control. The simple answer to this question is that minimum necessary controls are implemented early and stuck to rigidly, however demanding the user base can be.
If you have any feedback, or know of any other questions that would be relevant to ask, let us know through the comments or visit our virtualization support pages here.