Infrastructure: IT's stepchild

Why qualified infrastructure people are hard to find

Every enterprise needs a robust IT infrastructure in order to function effectively. Infrastructure is the foundation of corporate productivity and success. Many IT groups, however, don't have enough skilled infrastructure staffers to provide the solid foundation required.

Unfortunately, qualified infrastructure people are hard to find. Here's why:

Applications are more highly valued. Most executives recognize that effective applications offer significant business value. Unfortunately, they usually assume that the underlying infrastructure is easy to construct and maintain. As a result, they often give less attention and recognition to infrastructure. (Even CIOs generally understand applications better than infrastructure.)

Infrastructure is increasingly complex. The infrastructure group now manages a number of new technologies, including virtualization, advanced networking and cloud computing. In addition, infrastructure frequently has primary responsibility for privacy, security and standards. As the biggest energy consumer, infrastructure is also responsible for "green" initiatives, such as cutting IT energy use and complying with hazardous-substances mandates. All the pieces must then be knit together efficiently. As a result, infrastructure jobs require far more technical breadth and depth than ever before.

Infrastructure is becoming more customer-focused. With the advent of software as a service, outsourcing and application software generators, IT needs fewer technical specialists. But infrastructure functions now require high levels of customer contact, because of ITIL v3's focus on customer service. Many technical staffers (often introverted, per the stereotype) are uncomfortable with this requirement.

Compensation is lower. Historically, infrastructure departments offered entry-level IT jobs to individuals without college degrees. HR justified paying them lower salaries by claiming that they had fewer technical skills than their applications counterparts. Even though most low-skill infrastructure jobs have been automated and eliminated, perceptions have been slow to change. Compensation plans have not been adjusted to reflect the higher levels of technical expertise infrastructure now requires.

Infrastructure is a thankless job. Unfortunately, many employees have a very limited understanding of infrastructure. Few people appreciate the difficulty of the preproduction testing or postproduction tuning associated with installing a new system. This lack of understanding often leaves infrastructure staffs feeling undervalued and underappreciated. When the servers are up and the network is functioning, infrastructure availability is taken for granted. But when work stops because an application is unavailable or the network goes down, all fingers point to infrastructure. Infrastructure gets attention only for failures.

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