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Amazon's Cloud Outage and 7 Emerging Campus Tech Skills
June 7, 2011 - 9:30pm

Amazon's post-mortem of its late April cloud services (AWS) outage makes for fascinating reading.

As higher ed accelerates our transition to cloud based services, (e-mail, storage, backup, the LMS, lecturer capture storage/serving , media management, and eventually the SIS), we should think about the AWS outage in terms of the skills we need to develop and retain on campus.

On balance, I'm quite positive about our shift to the cloud, as consuming commodity computing services as a client (with an SLA) should allow us to focus more of our energy on innovation, teaching, learning and research. But the Amazon incident vividly demonstrates that the move to the cloud requires us to develop a new set of technology skills as competencies -- as we move from providers to consumers of many services.

7 Campus Computing Skills in the Era of the Cloud:

1. Expertise in Cloud Systems: The skill set of campus technologists will need to grow to encompass expertise in cloud computing architecture, with specific training and knowledge around how our main cloud providers are setting up their servers, databases, storage networks etc. Understanding the technology behind the companies we contract with to manage our cloud services will be critical for evaluation, negotiation, disaster planning, and integration tasks.

2. Development Skills in Proactive Testing: We will evolve from running all of our day-to-day backend operations to spending our efforts probing, testing, and designing backup plans for our vendor cloud partners. More time thinking about and planning for black swans, for contingencies such as the Amazon cloud service interruption. More time thinking about how to distribute our computing resources and assets, and reduce single points of failures. This is good, creative, and strategic work - work I think the best sys admins will be happy to spend energy on.

3. Experience with Vendor Negotiation, Due Diligence, and Research: We already negotiate with vendors, perform due diligence, and invest energy and time into our vendor partner relationships. As we move more critical services to the cloud these skills will need to expand and deepen. The stakes will get much higher, and choosing the right vendor, and building long-term relationships, will be at a premium. We will also need to better understand how to write contracts and service level agreements that protect our vital interests.

4. A Campus Communication Focus: If we move critical services to the cloud we will need to have a robust internal communications policy to explain the benefits of this move. We need to talk about leveraging cloud services allows us to focus on education, innovation and service. We need to learn how to address privacy and data security concerns proactively and head-on.

5. Educational Value Proposition Understanding: We need to connect cloud services directly with providing better support and more resources for teaching, learning, and research. How does a move to the cloud align with our core mission?

6. A Focus on Experimentation: If we can push off some day-to-day commodity operations to the cloud, become a consumer of services rather than a provider of computing, we better complement this move with a greater ability to experiment and innovate. Our vendor partners are not going to innovate for us, as we know our local situation and our local goals better than anyone. The cloud may give us an opportunity to build a culture of innovation, of fast failure, and of increased transparency and learning. We should take advantage of this opportunity.

7. Positive Paranoia: Finally, we should keep in mind that failures (like the Amazon outage) will occur. The test is how prepared we are for these failures, and to understand where it makes sense to move our campus services to the cloud and where it makes sense to keep these services local.

What campus tech skills in the era of the cloud would you add to this list?

How can we develop the next generation of campus technology professionals with the skills necessary to thrive in the time of the cloud?


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