While most analysts would probably tell you that the most exciting part of cloud-based services for businesses are things like scalability, availability, agility, automation and cost efficiency, Michael Pietroforte is more interested in the quality of opportunities that the cloud offers users and businesses.
Functions that were previously impossible or out of reach for smaller organizations are suddenly available to everyone because the cloud enables businesses large and small to share resources.
Michael uses analytics as an example. In the past, good analytics tools were out of reach for most small- and mid-sized organizations simply because they were much too expensive. But now, a small firm can just rent the huge resources and the expensive analytics software for a period of time and get totally new insights into their business.
This has encouraged many software makers to think about new resource-intensive services that target all business sizes and has made it so that new startups don’t have to face huge investments in infrastructure to offer more services – they just grow with the cloud, he says.
“Without the cloud, the vast majority of today’s startups – and the services they have to offer – wouldn’t even exist,” Michael adds. “The cloud created the new economy that investors were fantasizing about before the dot-com bubble.”
We recently caught up with the founder of 4sysops, a blog devoted to systems administrators, to find out what folks in his field are buzzing about these days and get his take on how businesses can manage their technology more efficiently, effectively and securely. Here’s what he had to say:
Here’s what he had to say:
Tell us about 4sysops. When and why did you start your site?
I started 4sysops in 2006. The main reason was that I wanted to have a job that allows me to always learn about the latest technological developments in IT, ahead of the rest of the pack. After working more than 20 years in IT, I often felt frustrated because I wasn’t able to introduce new technologies as fast as I wanted. Two years after I started 4sysops, I quit my job as the head of an IT department and fully focused on blogging.
Who should be reading 4sysops?
4sysops is a team blog for system administrators. We mostly focus on Windows administration, but cloud computing is increasingly taking up more space. Admins who want to improve their practical skills should subscribe to 4sysops. Many of our writers are IT veterans who share their profound IT knowledge and give practical tips for newbies and experienced admins.
What are the biggest headlines in the system administrator world today? What trends or innovations are getting a lot of buzz?
Cloud computing is certainly getting a lot of buzz. Justified buzz. For some time, so-called analysts predicted that the cloud, with its better automation capabilities, will make many admins jobless. However, thus far, we see the opposite development. It is true that many organizations automate their IT with the help of cloud computing and other new technologies such as PowerShell.
However, the demand for IT pros is still increasing because the cloud offers new ways that organizations can benefit from IT. For instance, mobile computing, another buzz topic, became useful for businesses because the cloud enables users to easily access business data from their mobile devices. This means that new admins are needed to manage those new devices and the corresponding cloud services. And we are already seeing the next wave coming in this development. The next buzz will be wearables and the Internet of Things. All these devices have to be managed, which means that, despite better automation, more admins will be needed.
What are the smartest things all owners of large and small businesses alike can do to ensure their computers and devices run efficiently and effectively?
Most important, for all sizes of businesses, is to embrace new technologies full-heartedly. In the past, organizations with a conservative policy with regard to technological innovations were able to survive if they were good at their core competencies. Those conservative organizations saw IT as a necessary evil – a mere commodity that can be helpful at times, like coffee machines that help employees get started in the morning or desk lamps that ensure employees keep working in the evening. Typically, these organizations deployed new operating systems only when their PCs were already falling part.
I believe these times are now coming to an end because IT is more and more at the center of most business activities. All economic sectors are affected because automation now advances at a much higher speed. For instance, 3D printing and robotics will revolutionize the manufacturing industry in the years to come. The industrial revolution shifts into the next gear. All those machines that improve automation are controlled and managed by IT. Thus, the smartest thing all business owners can do now is to foster a culture that welcomes technological innovation.
Computers and devices run most efficiently if IT works with the latest operating systems and tools, and users work most efficiently if they have access to the newest applications and services. But most important is that an up-to-date IT creates a progressive atmosphere in an organization. No ambitious employee wants to work for a company with outdated computers. I believe only organizations with a forward-looking strategy will survive the technological revolutions of the next decade.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing system administrators today?
As IT penetrates more and more businesses processes, IT systems become increasingly complex. This means that IT has to deal with a growing number of different systems. Usually, if new IT systems are introduced in an organization, the existing admins are entrusted with their installation and management. Executives with little knowledge of IT tend to underestimate IT personnel requirements. Hence, the number of devices and services usually grows much faster than the number of admins. This can partly be compensated by improving automation, which is perhaps the main reason that PowerShell has become such an important tool for system administrators.
However, admins are facing not only a quantity problem but a quality problem as well. The main challenge is not just that the number of new IT systems is increasing but that new types of IT systems require new kinds of skills. For instance, with mobile devices, new operating systems have entered the IT departments. The cloud requires new skills and a completely new way of thinking about how IT works. Thus, many admins face an increasingly heterogeneous environment, which forces them to invest more time in learning new technologies. In addition, the growing number of devices and services demands new automation skills, which often means that administrators have to support developers in creating automation tools.
What are some of your biggest concerns about these services?
None! Of course, every new technology can be abused and gives rise to new risks. Should this worry us? I don’t think so. History shows that even hopeless optimists often underestimate the opportunities of new technologies, which always outweigh the risks and downsides put forward by pessimists.
I am a big fan of the proactionary principle introduced by the philosopher Max More as an alternative to the precautionary principle. In its shortest form, the proactionary principle says that stopping progress to reduce risks is itself risky because it deprives us of the benefits a new technology has to offer. For instance, many people worry that governments can abuse these new services to keep their citizens under control using surveillance technologies.
For some Internet opponents, it appears that Orwell’s warnings just missed the timeline by about 30 years. However, I believe the opposite is true. The truth is that governments are struggling against control loss. The recent revolutions in the Middle East demonstrated impressively how these new technologies decentralize powers. To me, the current activities of some well-known secret services just reveal the desperation of governments because of this new shift in power. The only problem of this fear-driven surveillance paranoia is the enormous amount of wasted resources. The most brilliant minds waste their time with technologies that improve nobody’s security and have no impact whatsoever on our society. When it comes to government control, the cloud is not the problem; rather, it is the solution to the problem.
What should business owners be doing to better protect themselves against security threats?
Organizations that follow standard security guidelines have nothing to be concerned about. Of course, all important data that is stored in the cloud should be encrypted. Actually, I recommend to encrypt all on-premises data as well. This includes not only servers but also all end-user devices.
Modern encryption tools, such as BitLocker, are easy to deploy and manage. Many admins make the mistake of believing that data in the cloud is more vulnerable to unauthorized access than on-premises data systems are. However, considering that all IT systems are connected to the Internet, no real difference exists between the cloud and on-premises when it comes to data security. A hacker on the other side of the planet doesn’t care whether the data is on servers in the public cloud or in a private data center. The only thing that the cloud has changed is that we now need offline backups – that is, copies of important business data on storage systems that are disconnected from the Internet. I believe that ransom attacks in which attackers threaten to destroy data (rather than steal it) will become a common threat. This is a risk that comes with the growing importance of IT; however, it is a risk that can be easily managed.