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Despite the migration of IT workloads and operations to public clouds, IT infrastructure – servers, storage, networking – still poses myriad challenges. The amount of work is ballooning, good help is hard to find (and often unaffordable) and new technologies and initiatives demand new skill sets.

How are IT managers and staff coping with the challenges? We asked IT professionals in the 451 Alliance to share their complaints, strategies and plans.

 
 

Report Highlights

 
 

IT Staff Plans. About a third of the companies plan to increase IT infrastructure staff over the next year, while 18% plan to decrease staff due to organizational changes, migration to public clouds and adoption of new technologies that require less staff.

Lack of Skills. More than half of companies suffer from skills shortages, with DevOps and container administration topping the list.

Third Parties to the Rescue. Although IT organizations are increasingly turning to third-party service providers, the majority of the 451 Alliance companies do not use third parties for infrastructure management.

 
 

Do More With Less

 
 

Underlying many of the problems that IT faces is the fact that the amount of work continues unabated.

For example, 67% of the 451 Alliance companies say that the amount of work thrown at IT infrastructure teams has increased over the last 12 months. Only 8% report a decrease in the amount of work, attributable to offloading tasks to public cloud providers.

As a result, 26% of the companies have increased the number of full-time employees (FTEs) on their IT infrastructure staffs over the last year.

However, somewhat surprisingly, 57% of the companies were able to hold steady on their head count and 17% were able to decrease the number of FTEs – thanks in large part to public cloud offloading and labor-saving technologies such as IT automation.

Looking forward, about half the companies expect to maintain their current FTE headcount over the next 12 months, while 18% plan to decrease headcount and 29% plan to increase staff.

Why?

The main reasons for decreasing staff are:

  • IT organizational changes (e.g., restructuring teams in the wake of moving to technologies such as hyperconverged infrastructure or software-defined infrastructure)
  • Migrating infrastructure to public clouds (e.g., IaaS, PaaS, SaaS)
  • Adopting new technologies that require less staff (e.g., public clouds, IT automation, artificial intelligence)
 
 
Reasons for Reducing IT Staff
 
 

Another top reason for staff decreases is outsourcing to third-party and/or managed service providers, which is discussed in the second half of this report.

In addition to business growth, the main reasons for increasing infrastructure staff are significant projects (e.g., digital transformation) and the need for new skills to address new technologies.

 
 
Reasons for Increasing IT Staff
 
 

Skills Shortages

 
 

Slightly more than half (52%) of the 451 Alliance companies face infrastructure skills shortages, with DevOps and container administration expertise rising to the top.

 
 
Infrastructure-Based Skills Shortages
 
 

To combat the skills shortages, the majority of companies are either retraining existing staff or hiring new personnel, but an increasing percentage of companies are turning to third parties such as contractors and consultants, managed service providers, cloud service providers and IT outsourcers to bridge the skills gaps and, in some cases, to cut costs.

Among firms that are actively recruiting new personnel, 61% say that it is a difficult – sometimes impossible – task. There are a number of reasons for this, but the top three are:

  • Potential candidates lack the required skills and/or experience
  • Inability to find candidates in the company’s geographic region (physical proximity is often necessary for infrastructure management)
  • Salary demands are too high (particularly when recruitment involves looking for talent in Silicon Valley)
 
 

Third-Party Service Providers

 
 

In addition to (or in lieu of) retraining or hiring, many IT organizations are leaning on third-party service providers to address skills shortages. There are a variety of reasons for this trend.

 
 
Reasons for Using Third Party Service Providers
 
 

Use of third-party service providers varies depending on the area of IT. The survey queried 451 Alliance members about their use of third parties in the following infrastructure categories:

  • Primary data storage
  • Secondary data storage (e.g., backup and recovery)
  • On-premises physical servers
  • Off-premises physical servers
  • Converged/hyperconverged infrastructure

Across all categories, the majority of companies do not use third-party service providers (ranging from 59% for secondary storage to 72% for on-premises physical servers), although the percentages have been shrinking over the past several years.

Very few companies rely solely on third parties for IT infrastructure management (less than 10% in all categories).

Most (82%) of the 451 Alliance companies are satisfied with the performance of their third-party service providers, although many have concerns.

About half of companies using third-party providers express concerns about cost and security. However, 21% of the companies have no concerns about using third-party service providers.

 
 
Concerns About Third Party Providers
 
 

For companies that prefer the DIY approach over using third-party providers, labor-saving technologies such as IT automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will be needed to handle infrastructure management – particularly in the face of stagnant or declining head counts.

On the positive side, 75% of IT managers believe that AI and machine learning will simplify IT infrastructure management by automating tasks that previously required human involvement.