We're endlessly told that IT is a competitive weapon for business. What's not often acknowledged so often is that in this scenario IT pros are frequently the bullets: extremely effective but liable to be disposed of after being used once.
Bullet picture from Shutterstock
This thought came to me yesterday at the launch of an VMware-sponsored study about the impact that virtualisation has had on business expenditure. By IDC's calculations, between 2003 and 2020 the adoption of virtualisation (rather than needing to deploy individual servers) resulted in the following savings for Australian businesses:
- $4.5 billion in physical server purchases;
- $3.4 billion in reduced server admin costs;
- $1.6 billion in power and cooling savings;
- $58.5 million in reduced real estate expenditure.
There are some important caveats for those numbers. For instance, the figures don't include the extra expenditures involved in virtualisation, such as paying for hypervisor licences or having to adapt or update software to play nicely in a virtualised environment.
But that's not what annoyed me about them. What stuck in my craw somewhat was the fact that, on these numbers, the savings in administration costs amount to, by IDC's reckoning, the roles of 20,000 server administrators. What happens to all those people?
The traditional answer, and the one hinted at during the launch event, was that these staff would be "freed up" to work on "adding value to the business". "It's the innovation that's driving a lot of our customers. but the cost savings are nice," VMware ANZ Duncan Bennet said.
Of course, the cruel reality is that only a fraction of those staff will get the opportunity to drive that innovation. As IDC's research director Matt Oostveen put it: "All CIOs are looking to eliminate waste." In this context, waste is a server admin.
Working in IT isn't a charity role: as needs change, jobs are going to evolve, and the staff who survive will recognise and master new technologies. But let's not just act like that $3.4 billion in "server admin savings" is an abstract cost. It represents real people, some of whom will have worked hard to help put those technologies in place before being shown the door. When managers start complaining about skills shortages, it's worth asking what they did to help transform those "savings" roles.