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Skills for the next generation of virtualization jobs

You've helped usher in the age of server virtualization, but it's no time to rest on your laurels. Stay on top of industry trends and hone your skills for the next generation of virtualization jobs.

According to many estimates, most organizations have virtualized over half of their production workloads. Server...

virtualization has clearly become a mainstream technology, and there is no shortage of organizations looking to the future with plans to adopt next-generation virtualization technologies. Of course, this raises the question of which skills IT professionals should be focusing on today in order to better prepare themselves for the server virtualization jobs and technologies of the future.

The first skill that I recommend focusing on to prepare for the next generation of virtualization jobs might seem a little bit odd, but please hear me out. My recommendation is to focus on learning (or more likely, relearning) basic networking. The reason I make this recommendation is that Microsoft and VMware are both placing a great deal of emphasis on software-defined networking. SDN allows administrators to gain an unprecedented level of flexibility over the virtual network architecture. Microsoft's approach, for example, allows for the creation of logical networks and VM networks that overlay the physical network topology. These VM networks can be used to enable multi-tenancy (among many other things).

Defining logical networks and VM networks on top of the existing physical network greatly increases the overall network complexity. The level of complexity is further increased when multi-tenancy (or parallel VM networks) are brought into the picture. Successfully building and maintaining these types of networks requires administrators to have a solid understanding of the way that IP networks work. This includes everything from managing DHCP scopes to subnetting and packet routing. Taking the time to study up on IP networking today will likely pay dividends for virtualization admins down the road.

Another area in which IT professionals must focus their attention in preparation for next-generation server virtualization is with regard to identity management. To see why this is the case, consider the idea that many organizations started out using physical servers and gradually transitioned some of their workloads into the virtual world. By doing so, the organization likely created an environment in which it has both physical and virtual servers that belong to a common Active Directory forest. This approach to server virtualization is relatively seamless because a user's identity is managed at the forest level. Hence, the authentication process works in an identical manner for both physical and virtual machines.

As time goes on, however, resources are likely to become much more widely scattered than they are today. Organizations may, for example, run some workloads on local hypervisors, while other workloads run on public clouds. Even if an organization chooses to keep all production workloads running on-premises, the organization might choose to configure its virtualization infrastructure as a private cloud.

The point is that it will eventually become the norm for virtual networks to extend beyond physical network boundaries. Similarly, it will become much more common for users to connect to resources that exist in external Active Directory forests. As such, IT pros may benefit from studying such concepts as identity management, Active Directory federation and single sign-on.

Although I believe that networking and identity management will probably be two of the most important areas of focus going forward, there are plenty of other technologies worth studying. One such technology is storage.

Anyone who is currently administering a virtual server deployment at an enterprise scale is no doubt familiar with the various types of storage, as well as related topics, such as storage connectivity and bandwidth optimization. While there is no denying the importance of having a solid working knowledge of enterprise storage, it will conceivably be just as important to have an understanding of cloud storage.

Many cloud storage providers use object storage as opposed to block storage, which means that connecting to such a provider will typically involve the use of a cloud storage gateway. Another trend is that some organizations have begun striping data across multiple clouds in an effort to prevent a cloud provider from becoming a single point of failure. This technique is commonly referred to as BRIC (Bunch of Redundant Independent Clouds).

My point is that cloud storage can be vastly different from enterprise storage. As time goes on, it will become increasingly common for some VMs to exist on cloud storage. As such, it may be in virtualization administrators' best interest to start learning about cloud storage if they have not already.

Although nobody really knows for sure what the future of server virtualization jobs looks like, it seems like a safe bet that in five years, virtualization technology will be almost unrecognizable. As such, it is important for virtualization administrators to begin building skills that will enable them to cope with next-generation virtualization jobs and technologies.

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This was last published in September 2014

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Which skills or certifications do you think will be important to future employers?
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In addition to virtualization technical skills, there will be a need and a demand for greater security protocols and practices (and yes, tools), as well as a focus on extending those capabilities and ability to effectively oversee the transition to a more mobile cabable infrastructure.
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