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OpenStack training ramps up amid 'dearth' of qualified talent

OpenStack has gained traction, but there's not enough talent to implement the technology. In response, more courses and more tailored training have become available to meet that demand.

One of the biggest challenges of OpenStack has always been hiring and retaining qualified employees to deploy the...

open source cloud framework. And as enterprise adoption of OpenStack accelerates, so has the effort to expand training opportunities, with a raft of new courses available to bridge the talent gap.

Since the launch of the OpenStack marketplace in September 2013, the number of training sessions has risen from 17 unique courses in eight cities to 119 courses in 99 cities, according to the OpenStack Foundation. The OpenStack training courses are offered by open source nonprofits and vendors, and in recent months there have been pledges for more training from the likes of Rackspace, Red Hat and the Linux Foundation.

Now that OpenStack has advanced beyond just the early adopters, the need for qualified IT pros is growing, especially at enterprises with less technical aptitude, said Jay Lyman, research manager at 451 Research LLC, based in New York.

"Since its inception, but particularly in the last few years when it hit the enterprise, there's been this dearth of talent to deploy OpenStack," Lyman said. "While it's compelling because of its modularity and extensibility, for a wide variety of enterprise use cases, it remains complex and difficult to implement."

Prasad Chandratre, senior systems engineer at Nokia Networks, earned his OpenStack Administrator Professional Level certification through Mirantis. His group is involved in building the next generation network for Nokia as it shifts from proprietary hardware to OpenStack cloud architecture and the coursework was used to prepare the staff for that transition.

"OpenStack is a mixed bag because it's very resourceful and feature-rich technology for trying your projects on the cloud platform," Chandratre said. "But at the same time it involves so many components and big changes since the standards it is based on are different from at least my industry ... so bridging that gap is very important for us."

The long tail of adoption

The OpenStack market is in an evolution from do-it-yourself to the out-of-the-box experience enterprises expect with more traditional software, and that requires a shift in staffing, too, Lyman said.

The technology moves so fast, so often, that formal education institutions have a hard time catching up.
Jim Zemlinexecutive director, Linux Foundation

"That's a long journey and organizations realize that they're going to need existing people to adapt and change, but they're also going to need to find some talent and experience to make this happen," Lyman said.

And with changing demands, there has been a shift in the type of OpenStack training that is available, said Lauren Nelson, senior analyst with Forrester Research Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass.

The original programs entailed training people based on what they were looking to do. Now, it's become much more standardized and specialized around what role the trainee wants to serve, including courses for those who handle the day-to-day provisioning of resources or those that look more strategically at how to do more with OpenStack.

Despite the improvements in training, often enterprises aren't looking for OpenStack-specific people when they make hires, Nelson said. They'll hire IT pros proficient in Linux and pay to train them for OpenStack, but the real challenge for many companies with hiring and retaining staff is that they can't compete with vendors or West Coast cities that try to lure those people away.

"Once you have OpenStack on your resume, the concern becomes, 'Does that make you more valuable and get you pulled away by a vendor or pulled away by someone who will pay more?'" Nelson said.

Another problem is software developers are often less interested in the infrastructure configurations for their applications and becoming an OpenStack administrator often means having 10-plus years of operations experience, she added.

"It's too technical for a lot of younger potential developers in the market," Nelson said.

Vendor-sponsored training is an easy way to get customers to use their products, and peer-to-peer communication also helps companies navigate the technology, Nelson said. The user community is very active to help each other solve problems for free and without a vendor-driven perspective.

The Linux Foundation added to its OpenStack training this month with a new self-paced, online course to prepare trainees for the admin certification course starting at a discounted registration fee of $499.

The Foundation has heard from companies that have a hard time finding employees with the knowhow and certification to handle the technology, but OpenStack is not alone, said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation.

The adoption curve for open source tools typically follows the same path of being initially driven by a smaller group of early adopters who help build the code and progress to larger groups of enterprises, Zemlin said. The skills gap -- and the need for these types of training courses -- has become more pronounced as enterprises shift to software-defined and cloud computing and look for more full-stack developers and administrators capable of working with a range of specific technologies such as Linux, OpenStack and Hadoop.

"The technology moves so fast, so often, that formal education institutions have a hard time catching up," Zemlin said.

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at tjones@techtarget.com.

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