During the last couple of weeks, I participated in several technical presales oriented workshops and seminars on different products from several vendors. Most recent events were on LSI SVM (SAN virtualization), Oracle Exadata (high performance database appliance), IBM SVC (SAN virtualization), IBM XIV (high performance FC/iSCSI storage), and Sun 7000 Unified Storage series. They all share a very similar approach: be an easy to manage, easy to deploy, easy to use and easy to administer appliance. I'm in the storage/SAN field, but this appliance approach can be observed in other fields as well: network and SAN switches, firewalls, NAS filers, etc.
My personal wording for such appliances is tie compatibility: one of the key selling points for all those systems is through higher management instead of technical staff and/or head of IT department. Sales droids usually argue with less TCO and easy GUI management. I name this checkmark administration. While this is feasible from a management perspective, I wonder, what happens to all those highly skilled admins with all the experience and knowledge in their particular field. By running mostly self-managed appliances, which tasks will be left for those people? And no more need to pay high salaries for just klicking some buttons here and there ... Oh, wait a minute: Why even hire an admin? Maybe/probably it'll work, if the manager's secretary will get a two day training on the appliance. Fine, no more admin needed at all ...
There is another trend I observe: There are less and less good skilled people out there. Is it, because there are more and more appliances and skill/experience plain simple gets lost? Or is the reason for those appliances, that well trained and skilled people are difficult to find and expensive? I suspect the first, which makes me a bit sad. In the past, admins had to know their systems by heart. They could locate a broken disk by listening carefully to the sound of the storage array and could precisely predict the load of a server by estimating the speed of the fans. Today, a management GUI will tell, which component is broken, the component will have an indicator LED nearby and in many cases, there will a case already have been opened automagically at the vendor's support line by the system itself. Not uncommon, that one of those checkmark administrators recognizes a broken disk only, because the vendor's service engineer is knocking on the door and has a replacement disk with him.
So, when will we get completely automated IT? And what will happen to system administrators at that point? And to all those VARs (value added resellers) as well as independent service providers who make their living today with post sales consulting, maintenance and service, fixing broken systems, etc.? I work for one of those VARs and I'm far away of being amused about this future. Might happen way faster than we expect ...
Maybe you're right with your assumptions.Maybe not. I personally think all those Gui Tools ar not a real solution.
It's another Layer, causing new problems and trouble.
From my perspective, ts a tool to sell more support, and in deep Knowledge from the supplier and vendors.
Its a new (old) business model.
in beginning of the new century we had the experience that companies tried to break out from vendor dictatorship. ;)
Maybe now we look at a new era, where all this vendor locking starting again. But a little bit more subtle than we had it in the 70/80/90s
Now its going through the service and support.
The products will get more complicated, additional Layers, Like VMWARE, or SAN Virtualiziation. They don't really solve problems, they put an additional layer into the IT eco System.
For Powerpoint Presentation Fans it might look glamarous and easy, they also could assume that they don't need a qualified IT Staff or the try to source it out.
But i expect qualified Engineers like you will always find a interesting role. :)
Caus you know and alot of other people too. The problems wont leave the business, they might change, but as long as humans build computers and develop software ther will be a lot of issues and qualified engineers have to deal with it.
Sure, it's cool to diagnose hardware problems with all senses. And I'm proud about all the systems I knew by heart.
But times change. There are more and more new systems. Way to much to know all of them in deep and to collect detailed experience on all of them.
Nowadays I only find the time to read the manual if there is a problem that cannot be resolved without...
And, yes it's true that systems are build for easier usage with all kinds of simplification from GUIs to appliances. But then there are new demands for IT, new possibilities by creatively combining the systems. So the single system is easier, but the systems are developed further and combined to build new complex systems. As Bernd stated, only the level changes. I am optimistic and I believe that there will always be a need for system administrators. Just their exact tasks will change.