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Rackspace CTO discusses cloud trends, reveals 2013 cloud automation plans

Rackspace CTO predicts major IT skill changes due to cloud trends in 2013 and offers a glimpse into upcoming cloud automation tools.

Cloud computing will continue to evolve in the year ahead, and with the evolution comes the need for new IT job skills, updated platform capabilities, cloud automation and portability and cloud-centric tools.

Rackspace Inc. will offer the latter in 2013, according to chief technology officer John Engates, who offered details on cloud trends and what to expect from the cloud hosting provider in the year ahead.

DevOps is a trend you'll see more CIOs and enterprises adopt; in order to access the cloud today you need to have a few developer skills up your sleeve.

John Engates,
chief technology officer

How will cloud computing change life for the average IT pro in 2013?

John Engates: The skill sets inside of IT shops are going to start to shift.

Historically, if you think about the vast majority of folks in an IT department, it's been system administrators [sysadmins], specialists in particular applications, people with hands-on architectural skills … companies are shifting much more to a developer-centric workforce.

DevOps is a trend you'll see more CIOs and enterprises adopt; in order to access the cloud today you need to have a few developer skills up your sleeve. You can come to a portal and spin up a server, but that isn't taking advantage of the automation and the full capabilities of the cloud -- in order to do that, you need to be able to consume an API [application programming interface]. We're seeing this in our own company, which leads me to believe this trend will make it into the enterprise as well.

It also means you're going to see more roles for generalists; as systems go to the cloud, you may not need the deep specialist in a particular database or specific application. You may be able to tap into that expertise from your cloud provider.

Will we see a shift from Infrastructure as a Service to more Platform as a Service as part of those shifts in skill sets?

Engates: It's going to get harder to nail down the difference between those two.

Rackspace cloud has a product called Cloud Files, which is object storage. I would characterize that as more of a platform than infrastructure because the consumer of that product has no idea how many servers we have, they don't see any machines, they don't reserve capacity, they just put their files in and retrieve their files out.

Some of the new capabilities, like big data, are more Platform as a Service than they are Infrastructure as a Service. It's because the developer is the consumer of both of these services. There was a conception that Infrastructure as a Service was for sysadmins and Platform as a Service was for developers, and I just don't see it necessarily playing out so cleanly.

Developers consume all of this stuff, and DevOps blurs the lines within the organization, and therefore you can expect cloud providers to blur the lines between product sets. I don't think people want to use them independently.

Will there be more automation in the area of Infrastructure as a Service in 2013, where it's less about spinning up individual instances and more about assigning a workload and having the service respond appropriately?

Engates: Another product that we're in the process of launching is a tool that allows the customer to orchestrate what you're describing. Instead of spinning up a specific instance by hand, having the cloud do that for me. We call it Service Registry. It [gives] a developer a place to describe applications and the services that that application relies upon to drive some automation.

Many of our customers use Chef, but Chef doesn't fundamentally have any auto-scaling or orchestration that notices when servers come up or go down. It needs to be driven by something else, and our Service Registry becomes that tool.

Pieces are coming together in the cloud to ensure that you don't think of an application in a disjointed server-by-server way, you think of applications as the building blocks of services.

What about portability between clouds? How do you see that developing in 2013?

Engates: I think the story gets better.

I looked back at my 2012 predictions, and one of the things I mentioned that I saw on the horizon was open source clouds and open standards becoming much more important. We saw a little bit of that this year, [but] open source has been elusive in the cloud. That's primarily because Amazon has been the biggest cloud company, and they haven't really embraced the idea of going to standards bodies. They've allowed other people to take some of their APIs and build them into other products, but they haven't officially told the world that they're allowing their cloud standards to be open standards. That's where open source has jumped in to help fill that gap. We're expecting that 2013 will also bring a number of additional cloud providers adopting OpenStack.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for and Write to her at or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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