2019 – Skills ‘groundhog day’ or breaking new horizons?
By Sponsored Content Published: 11:26, 16 February, 2019 Updated: 10:56, 18 February, 2019
The start of a new year brings a good deal of reflection on the previous year and a raft of future trend predictions.
One such key prediction for the data centre sector is the ongoing issue of skills and labour shortages.
The ‘groundhog’ day round of lamentations regarding the lack of readily qualified and skilled individuals available and willing to fill roles that seem to be left unfilled from last year has started already.
Deloitte reports continuing skills shortages across the entire tech sector.
The Uptime Institute trend report cites skills shortages as one of the top 10 issues despite the implementation of automation and AI to accommodate some tasks and, in a January edition of Data Center Frontier report, Rich Miller predicts that skills shortages are number three on the list of eight trends that will shape the sector in 2019.
But, there is an element of, we’ve seen all this before.
It’s been highlighted previously that the workplace and nature of work is changing, there’s a lack of a clearly articulated data centre ‘employer brand’, and of course the demographics of the sector are emergent as reasons for a continuing dearth of skilled, qualified and motivated entrants to the sector.
While there are pockets of good practice to address these issues coming from industry and professional associations, the absence of a cohesive people strategy for the sector remains the key factor.
We continue to have the same conversations about the same issues in regard to building and developing sector capability through people.
Same stuff, different day.
We continue to have the same conversations detailing the same perceived reasons for the continued inability to fill roles with skilled and qualified people because, in the main, we’ve got a skewed picture of where the problems actually exist.
So, in light of the new year and a good deal of reflection on the recent past and based on recent industry research conducted by CNet training, here’s a list of the top 3 skills shortage myths and fallacies.
1. We just have a skills shortage
The conflation of the central problem to a singular nebulous ‘skills shortage’ belies the complexity of the issue.
The data centre sector not only has a reported shortage of the right skills to fill particular roles (round pegs for round holes) it also has a talent pipeline problem in that too few people are making their way into the sector as a first job or as career changers (too few pegs!).
However, it is clear from the research that while 47 per cent of respondents suggested that it takes between four and six months to fill vacancies and 89 per cent suggested that being unable to fill vacancies in a timely manner added risk to business operations, only 5 per cent suggested that their organisation had revised its talent strategy.
Of course, a lack of diversity (gender, neurodiversity, social background) adds complexity to the argument.
Broadening out the labour pool (finding different pegs that fit) is a smart strategy (particularly in a tech environment) but only 14 per cent of respondents suggested that they were working to attract people from diverse groups.
Sadly, a lack of broadening out the labour pool to encompass non-traditional applicants not only narrows the field from which people can be drawn, but it also diminishes organisational innovation, capacity to flex with environmental challenges and supports limited ideas and cultures.
The data supports the notion that little is being done in this sector to establish a viable pipeline beyond the traditional labour pools and personnel .
When examined, the reasons contributing to hard to fill vacancies identified that factors such as too few applicants (9 per cent) and poaching prior to starting the role (7 per cent) are adding to the issue of skill/competence shortfalls at 20 per cent.
Unattractive shift patterns (12 per cent) exceeded the shortfall of required qualifications (9 per cent) as a reason for vacancies remaining unfilled.
This is clearly a structural issue rather than a skills shortage problem.
2. Development of people is someone else’s responsibility
Traditional notions that people with requisite capabilities will be delivered to our organisations ready-made is not only wishful thinking, it’s putting our organisations and our capacity to adequately mitigate risk in jeopardy.
But, listen to audience recommendations regarding resolutions to the issue of a shortage of capable people and there will always be a discussion about education institutions not delivering on the skills required to meet industry demand.
There is some merit to this argument, but universities in particular will not devise programmes unless they know there is a market for their graduates and that they can deliver a broad enough suite of employability skills to enable their graduates to find work into the future, not just for now.
This means that they need engagement with industry.
Anecdote is backed up with data collected by CNet which suggests that while 73 per cent of respondents indicated that they had difficulty finding people to fill vacancies, 19 per cent suggested that they work with educators but only 8 per cent said they liaised or partnered with education providers.
This suggests a light-touch connection to the very entities that we say should be working to solve our ‘skills problem’.
In fact, it’s more likely (31 per cent) that engagement with vendors is sought before looking to educators.
However, where there are formal and close connections between industry and educators, the benefits to both can be startling.
For example, the Associate College relationship between Anglia Ruskin University and CNet illustrates that it is possible to bring a very clear industry focus to academic programs for context relevant and robust education and capability development.
The CNet research also highlighted a raft of ‘missing skills’ that, paradoxically, could only be developed inside the data centre sector itself.
Lack of industry experience, capacity to understand the critical infrastructure context and specific organisational or vendor processes’ are unlikely to be developed outside of a data centre role – this can’t be taught elsewhere.
Organisations therefore, have a responsibility to develop capability from within.
However, just 15 per cent of respondents to the CNet survey suggested that talent needs were addressed by training and developing the internal talent pipeline through activities such as ongoing professional development.
3. We can fix this ourselves in our spare time
There are many well-meaning motivated individuals in the sector keen to resolve the current and emerging talent pipeline problems.
However, as we continue to employ a volunteer DIY approach to undertake specialist workforce development projects (through working groups and the like), little sector wide advancement is being made.
One respondent to the CNet research suggested “Everyone is an expert, and they all have an opinion about skills” but not much actual traction is being gained industry wide.
Just as there’s criticism of new entrants to the data centre workforce not having the broad and generalist knowledge desired, so too, people without a broad understanding of workforce structures, diversity and talent development will be unable to understand the symbiotic nature and depth of the social, policy and capability issues in play.
Only the latter is going to make much of a difference to find our share of the 203,000 level 3+ engineers needed per year in the UK alone for the next five years .
Developing capability frameworks to support a flexible, scalable and global skills cluster approach to inform universities and other providers of the broad range of employability needs is key.
Educators want a true partnership to develop industry informed education programs to prepare graduates beyond their two or three year course.
This cannot be achieved by writing a simple wish-list of skills cobbled together from today’s narrow role descriptors.
This is a specialist endeavour that governments will invest in if given a compelling and expert argument to do so.
So, as we head into 2019 the data centre sector has some compelling arguments to reflect on past achievements and work toward busting the myths that perpetuate the well-meaning talk-fests that seem to haunt the conversation around skills shortages.
Action, professionalisation of approach and a strong evidence base can advance the conversation from ‘groundhog day’ to strong ‘new horizons’.
“Behind every great woman, are great women”
By João Marques Lima Published: 11:54, 15 February, 2019 Updated: 09:51, 6 February, 2019
With a market capitalisation of nearly $8bn, Okya is one of the largest cloud software providers in the world working to secure connections between people and technology. Founded in 2009 by its current CEO Todd McKinnon and co-founder Frederic Kerrest, the San Francisco-based company has in the last decade become one of the largest players in its space.
Beyond its market reach, within the company’s own walls, other projects are making it one of the leading brands on the diversity in the workplace stage.
One of the initiatives the company has created is Women @ Okta which has been set up to encourage and welcome more diversity within the company’s work teams.
Leading the group is Lauren Havertz.
Havertz has worked at Okta since 2013 and has held various roles in Engineering.
She has finally found her role as a Technical Program Manager where she works with Okta’s Technical Operations team keeping Okta #AlwaysOn.
She is also the Co-Chair of the Women @ Okta employee resource group.
João Marques Lima interviews Havertz on the millennial’s achievements, projects and what she expects from the future.
What is the view of the industry you are in?
The general view in tech is that if you work hard, that you’ll be rewarded in the long run.
In tech, and especially here in the Bay Area, the expectation is that you give your life to your job and you grind it out day after day.
I’ve seen plenty of friends leave jobs because they were completely fried and took a couple of months off and then back at a new job doing the same thing.
I’ll say, in general, all of the stereotypes you see and hear about are mostly true.
Although, there are some real strides being made toward increasing work/life balance or having a work/life “blend”.
There is also the issue on gender and racial diversity in the tech industry, in that there is still a lot of work to do in order to sort these issues.
What has been your major accomplishment to date?
Professionally, I just finished running a two and a half year long infrastructure upgrade.
For a large enterprise company that’s probably not a big deal but at a growing company like Okta, that was one of the longest initiatives completed in Engineering.
On a personal level, discovering the passion that I have for advancing women in the workplace.
I’m currently the cochair for our Women@Okta group.
It’s been an incredibly rich experience to build empathy, community, and courage to tackle the large and small obstacles that I, and others, face every day.
What does a day in your life normally look like?
No day is the same.
As a technical program manager, I am constantly context switching, meeting with folks, figuring out what’s going on, and what’s left to do. Sometimes, it’s discovering what the problem is.
I love my job because it involves constant collaboration with others. The challenges and my colleagues keep things interesting.
What do companies need to know about hiring and retaining millennials?
Please pay us what we are worth. Don’t underestimate us or what we can become.
Be our mentors and our allies. I’ll also add that a compliment can really go a long way.
If we do something that’s awesome, tell us and let our managers know! Those small acknowledgments are things that let us know that our work is appreciated and add fuel to our tanks.
What do you expect from the industry and its future?
I hope that in 10 years we’ll see a lot more women as CEOs, co-founders, and board members.
It’s been proven that diverse companies are not only more innovative, but also profitable.
I think women in positions of power lead to more useful products and services.
We’re able to reach the other 50% of the population.
Every member of our community needs to educate themselves and advocate for diversity, inclusion and equity.
This topic should be deeply embedded in the way companies hire, build products, and create their own distinct culture.
Every person from the mail room to the C-suite should be able to contribute and add value.
Where do you want to be in 10 years?
I love the quote from Jaclyn Johnson, “Behind every great woman, are great women.”
I want to be one of those great women.
No-Human Data Centre 2020
By João Marques Lima Published: 12:02, 14 February, 2019 Updated: 10:51, 18 February, 2019
Automation has long been a dream for data centre managers. Real time reports, breakdown prevention, huge costs savings. But until now, automation has happened mostly on the hyperscale playfield. However, that is about to change, according to Mansour Karam, CEO and Founder of Apstra, a business that extracts software from hardware, manages infrastructure as code and automates everything. João Marques Lima has more in this edition’s startup round.
What has the process of setting up Apstra been like?
Starting a company starts with having the right founding team.
David Cheriton had founded Arista and had recruited me to join back in 2005; so we knew each other well and had worked together in the formative days of Arista.
So when David expressed an interest in joining in on our project, it was clear to me that I had the right partner, and the right investor.
I had met Sasha Ratkovic because of his efforts with Group Based Policies in the Openstack community, while he was a distinguished engineer at Juniper.
Once David, Sasha, and I agreed to teamup, we partnered with top attorneys to complete the company structure and paperwork; and set a start date.
What have been the biggest learning curves since the company was founded?
There has been so many it’s hard to keep count.
I like Day Dalio’s quote “If you don’t look back at yourself and think, “Wow, how stupid I was a year ago,” then you must not have learned much in the last year.”
We’re learning every day, but what’s most critical for success is to (1) be very clear about the values that we care about, and (2) always strive to surround oneself with the right people – those with the right culture to embody those values, the best intellect, and world class skill set for the job at hand.
How is the business funded?
We are a private company, self-funded mainly by one of the Apstra co-founders, David Cheriton.
What plans have you got for long term expansion?
The company will continue to grow to support our rapid expansion.
While we’ll continue to grow our engineering team to build all the capabilities that our customers have requested from us, we are increasingly investing in growing our sales and marketing teams to support our global sales growth.
How does your technology work?
The Apstra Operating System (AOS) software is a distributed system that consists of hundreds of modules that react to state changes from intent, and publish state back to a distributed graph datastore.
AOS delivers the only full lifecycle, vendor-agnostic intent-basednetworking solution on the market.
In developing Apstra, the company has introduced many game-changing, patent-pending innovations to the market.
Are data centres with no humans a dream or will they really emerge? When can we start seeing mass scale deployment of fully automated data centres?
To support the requirements for digital transformation, organizations have no choice but to fully automate their data centers.
The data centers of some hyperscale organizations are already fully automated data centers.
We expect to see mainstream organizations fully automate their data centers in 2019, accelerating in 2020.
Where does this automatisation leave the humans/staff that work in the sector?
Staff that work in the sector will have, for the first time, the ability to focus their energy and time on more critical tasks – such as business intent, defining business logic, and programming which will massively improve their job satisfaction and make them far more valuable to the business.
How is this going to disrupt the business models of today’s operator’s?
Improving business agility, reducing costs, and improving availability by at least an order of magnitude has a profound effect on the business model of today’s operators.
It enables them to accelerate digital transformation and deliver on their business needs at much higher velocity, and far more efficiently and cost effectively.
Jumping at the edge how skydiving triggered edge computing
By João Marques Lima Published: 15:55, 13 February, 2019 Updated: 10:07, 6 February, 2019
Fear takes over many when it comes to flying. Jumping out of a plane and entering free-falling towards Earth is something not for the faint hearted either. Being brave, bold and having the desire to pushing boundaries are all quite essential to take the step forward and start descending towards the ground.
The altitude and the experience provide you with a unique experience, which according to Cole Crawford, Founder and CEO of edge computing infrastructure company VaporIO, connects you to the planet Earth like nothing else.
For Crawford, who has skydived dozens of times, the freefalling aerodynamics have also helped him to create one of the most disruptive edge computing infrastructures today: the Chamber, an IT enclosure system, built for the Kinetic Edge.
João Marques Lima took a dive – not quite literally – and spoke to the CEO on how skydiving helped create the Chamber and what the sport has taught him as a leader.
Where does the passion for skydiving come from?
There are technically two answers to this.
The first being that it was a way for me to connect with my father (who was an airborne in the military).
The more nuanced answer is that personally I like pushing boundaries and exploring uncharted territories.
There is an art to innovation and where one finds the passion to create that art I think is both personal and primal.
I happen to do my best thinking literally, in the clouds.
What do you feel and think about while falling?
Too often people assume that it is adrenaline that makes people skydive. It’s serotonin.
There is a sense of peace when it is just you and the wind, sky. You are completely out of your element up there, until you aren’t.
Jumping also gives you the ability to take a step back and see the world from a different perspective.
Everything is much smaller and while you can sort of get the same point of view out of an airplane window you don’t feel as connected to it all.
The Chamber was first thought during a skydive training session. How come?
Another multi part answer.
When I was running OCP for Facebook I had to technically defend a rack that was two inches wider than a standard rack.
That was a forcing function to learn about the history of the commonly deployed 19 inch rack.
What I learned was eye opening.
Back in the 19th century the railroad was invented and the industry needed a way to “rack” the mechanical switch gear to move tracks back and forth and viola, the rack as we know it today, was born.
Fast forward to early 2014 where I find myself in a wind tunnel thinking about vertical air movement and the “Ideal Gas Law – P=ρRT” in context of heat evacuation.
Thermodynamics tells us that (at least in normal atmospheric conditions) that hot air rises and cold air falls.
In context of rack infrastructure then, it starts to look a little silly to design hardware for sub optimal air movement where there is a direct relationship between energy (heat), entropy, and physical space.
All of this is to say that hot / cold aisle containment is pretty inefficient.
If we were actually to start this whole thing over again we’d design IT equipment rotated 90 degrees on the z-axis.
Additionally I knew that at the edge the things we care about as tenants of a multi tenant data center ie IT gear segregation would be important.
By leveraging a circle it is possible to rotate in place and further maximize density on small parcels of land which we knew we’d need while allowing for complete physical isolation of infrastructure owned by others.
How does the Chamber work?
The chamber is made up of six wedge racks which support both 19 inch and OCP gear.
All of your typical data centre components are still present.
Front to back cabling works, PDU’s can be deployed (if you aren’t using something superior like an Open19 / OCP power shelf), top of rack switches, etc.
In a VEM (Vapor Edge Module) the chamber uses proprietary technology to ensure 180 degree rotation can be achieved without twisting power or network cables.
We also have complete physical separation between the IT space and the cooling plant.
This allows smart hands / break fix functions to happen at the same time as a scheduled or unscheduled facility maintenance event.
What are the roll out plans for the nearer and farther term?
Vapor IO is currently deploying in 19 locations in the United States.
Our focus on operational excellence will allow us to quickly add new domestic markets while we keep an eye on international opportunities.
Any new funding rounds in the pipeline for Vapor?
Vapor IO just closed a Series C investment led by Berkshire Partners.
We are set up perfectly to execute the vision and mission we’ve set for ourselves.
Would you sell the company one day or IPO it?
Our only goal right now is to build the best data centric technology we know how to build and provide the best service and value possible to our customers and partners.
What other projects are you working on at the moment and how did the idea came about?
Vapor has a few tricks up our sleeve.
While I won’t go into detail I will share that in our view, the network stack can be optimized to support the internet of everything.
We’re working hard internally to ensure we’re skating to where the puck is going, not where it is.
What does skydiving teach that is a worthwhile lesson for any CEO from Silicon Valley to Tokyo?
Skydiving is truly unique in a few ways.
First, It’s absolutely necessary to trust. The amount of trust it takes to jump out of a perfectly good plane is significant.
You have to trust the manufacturer of your rig, your parachute, your parachute packer and yourself and this is no different when you run a company.
You have to trust your engineering teams, your ops team, sales team etc and you have to trust yourself.
Second, it takes balance.
When you skydive you aren’t falling, you’re flying, and that takes balance via the inputs and outputs of how you orientate yourself to the ground.
Building a company also requires the right inputs and outputs along with proper orientation.
Ultimately though, every CEO needs an outlet to take a step back and analyze and synthesize your surroundings.
Too often a CEO can get lost in the details of a company or they can be too abstracted from it.
Seeing the bigger picture is key and when you put all of that together, the sky’s the limit.