With the growing adoption of virtualization technologies in the industry raises the need for professionals able to design new kinds of architectures, mastering new tools and interpreting new results.
It’s common considering a virtualization professional in the same fashion of a system engineer or architect, given similar needs to handle operating systems and applications.
But virtual technologies raised the bar of required skills at new levels. Much higher than how many companies are realizing today.
Server virtualization experts in particular have to present an impressive background to be satisfactory.
Value of cross competence
Usually an average system engineer have a deep understanding of one or more families of operating systems and a solid but limited amount of networking knowledge.
In virtualization world that wouldn’t be enough.
Today’s virtualization projects, both when building a new infrastructure from scratch and when migrating a physical one, involve storage, network and security aspects to be considered carefully.
As soon as hardware will become more powerful and virtualization firms will provide more tools for virtual machines automation, these aspects will grow even more in importance.
The modern virtualization professional have to be highly competent on several disciplines, aware of differences between storage architectures like Storage Area Network (SAN) and Network Attached Storage (NAS), between network connections like Gigabit Ethernet and InfiniBand, between authentication schemes like Radius and LDAP, between servers form factors like traditional rack systems and blade systems, etc.
For each option he has to be clear expected implementation issues and performances results, so to choose the best one depending on customers’ requirements and budget.
Obviously this is only the basic knowledge portfolio recruitment staff has to require.
Since virtualization evidently involves physical consolidation companies have to carefully design and implement reliable infrastructures.
Virtualization expert must be comfortable with high availability solutions, knowing which impact will have an approach at network, operating system or application level in the virtual datacenter.
In similar fashion he has to master different backup technologies, perfectly understanding how they will influence virtual machines performances and availability, and which virtualization product works with which 3rd party solution.
If this won’t be enough holes in virtual platforms capabilities oblige virtualization professionals to bridge the gap with scripting languages, which require a whole set of skills on their own.
And if the project aims to offer a thin computing environment for hundreds or thousands of concurrent users, what today is usually called virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), the candidate have to also bring a notable experience in terminal services, to handle complexity of this very particular scenario where minimal errors can compromise business productivity in a substantial way.
The biggest difference between an architect and an engineer is that the two figures respond two different and precise imperatives: “design well” and “maintain well”.
Designing well a virtual infrastructure involves capability to plan a scalable, reliable and performing system.
In the near term, among these factors, performances are the most critical factor in server virtualization successful projects.
What mostly impact on performances is not hardware or virtualization platform you choose, but applications that will be deployed in every virtual machine.
Each of them provides an isolated environment not affecting other virtual machines way of working, however applications hosted inside indirectly influence overall physical resources availability.
For example engineers will be obliged to reserve a lot of physical RAM for those virtual machines hosting very memory-intensive applications, like OLAP engines, or assigning dedicated physical disks for virtual machines hosting notable I/O workload applications, like databases.
In general resources requirements are not only dependent by applications category, but also by their design: it’s very frequent to have a softwares solution which should not be big resource-consuming on paper but actually is in real world deployments, and this may depends on memory leaking flawing the product.
Without enough technical background there is a concrete risk of arranging together multiple resources-hog virtual machines side by side in the same hosting server, achieving poor performances, while others are under-used.
This risk is then highly amplified by specific environment characteristics where the virtual machine and its application are deployed.
Even the less resource-consuming software accessed by thousands of concurrent connections in the same moment becomes hard to satisfy in requirements, so the best virtualization specialist is the one who studies how the customer’s environment works, monitors when workload peeks appear for each application, and plan a virtualization infrastructure where products suffering peeks at the same hour are not deployed in the same physical machine.
For these reasons a virtualization architect is expected to have a notable experience with several kinds of applications of different vendors, from databases to mail servers, from web servers to applications servers.
He needs to have a clear idea of how many resources are needed for each product to perform in good way, how each product is expected to behave in a correctly sized environment, and which product needs particular attentions.
All those kinds of things a professional cannot find in product’s documentation and which learn after years of work in datacenters.
All those kinds of things a company cannot pay as much as today pays an average system architect.
Companies embracing virtualization have to rapidly change their mind about what skills they need and how much they worth.
Insisting to compare new virtualization architects and engineers with traditional system architects and engineers will severely compromise capability to find and employ the right professional.
In the near and middle term an obsolete state of mind will impact virtual infrastructure performance and capability to perform, bringing damage to business and a raising need of expensive outsourcing services.
To avoid this company management and HR departments have to reconsider profiles they are looking for and real value of their extended technical background.
This article originally appeared on SearchServerVirtualization.