I recently met with Jill Eckhaus, president of AFCOM, an association that represents enterprise and Internet data center managers, executives and vendors.
According to Eckhaus, data center professionals have a lot on their minds these days, whether its disaster recovery in the face of the possibility of massive electrical outages a la last summer or the fact that data center facilities dont have the cooling capabilities required to run the clusters of blade servers were now seeing coming into data centers.
One thing they dont have on their minds, however, is job security. I raised the question because, over the course of years of reporting on offshore outsourcing and the political quagmire that is the H-1B visa program, scores of readers always came back to me with this one, crucial question: What IT jobs are safe?
Perhaps, what with the reviving economy, it might strike you that this is no longer a pressing concern. After all, DBA (database administrator) salaries, for one, are finally recuperating from the slump following the burst Internet bubble.
According to figures from IT recruiting firm Dice Inc., the average DBA is now pulling in $82,430 annually. That ranges from Access DBAs making $76,438 on up to contractors, who are taking home $99,900. Its also up from $75,289 when times were bad.
Even Software Architecture
Gets Outsourced “> Before we get all giddy, though, consider this: Outsourcing is here to stay, and its creeping up the food chain. IT professionals may still cling to the notion that only low-level jobs such as help desk or call-center positions get sent overseas, but if thats not a comforting myth yet, its well on its way to becoming one.
Case in point: As revealed by WashTech, an organization thats long been a stalwart defender of tech-worker rights, as early as 2001, Microsoft was sending software architect jobs to Indian outsourcing companies Infosys and Satyam. (Technology companies are loath to reveal this type of information, which amounts to a public image nightmare. Kudos, WashTech, for the fine sleuthing.)
Data architect: Thats not the low-hanging, low-skills fruit weve grown used to comforting ourselves about, telling ourselves that only low-level positions such as help-desk jobs are going overseas. As the New York Times said in this article about Microsofts outsourcing, Microsoft was billed $90/hour for the work. In the United States, skilled software architects pull down six figures.
So when somebody tells me that data center professionals dont sweat the idea of outsourcing, it strikes me that thats a piece of information worth sharing.
Scott Townsend, CIO of Macomb Schools and Government Credit Union—the 6th largest credit union in Michigan and in the countrys top 2 percent of credit unions—told me that outsourcing the credit unions data center jobs has never been an issue because, basically, heavy-duty technical lifting has always been outsourced, from the start. That includes technology for which theres no desire or capacity to maintain in-house: for example, security, router management, Internet site hosting or other noncore banking systems.
That leaves the work of managing and loading core mainframes and high-level servers and doing ad hoc programming internally, and that type of work isnt going anywhere. “We have to have core mainframe [applications] in-house to have as much control over future development as possible,” Townsend said.
Salary ranges vary by skill and location, of course, but one data center manager in the small town of San Angelo, Texas, told me hes paying salaries of between $30,000 and $80,000. That one particular manager, Bobby Bruner, who works for a contracting firm he declined to name but which runs the state of Texas consolidated data center, also told me hes geared up to double his staff in the coming two years.
Bruner doesnt have a simple answer to the question of whether outsourcing will ever touch data center professionals. After all, his contracting firm is benefiting from having agencies across the state outsource data center functions to it.
Critical Data Stays
at Home”> But Bruner is also of the same opinion as Townsend in believing that critical data will always be kept close to the vest. “Companies and governments [will] continue to look at outsourcing as a potential way to reduce IT costs,” he said. “But I dont see as many CIOs who are willing to take their critical data—this is how companies make or break their living, after all—overseas. I do see companies will potentially outsource to conglomerate data centers that are going to manage their facility at a cost-effective rate. Its the Wal-Mart theory: Hey, if I can run a larger data center, then when I talk to IBM or whoever those companies are, my leverage with them is much greater the larger I am. Thats whats happening in the state of Texas. They had 80 data centers. If we run it as one, think of the economies of scale youd get.”
OK, so data centers arent immune to consolidation. Are all data center jobs immune to staff shrinkage? Of course not. At the Airline Tariff Publishing Co.—an organization run by the airlines as a nonprofit whose purpose is to collect, disseminate, cancel and update anything having to do with airline fares—Data Center Manager Tim LaFollette told me that the organization trimmed its work force from 570 employees back in 2002 down to its current level of 520.
Hes managing maintenance groups, developers, and PC techs responsible for maintaining desktops and laptops, and hes looking for Java programmers and developers, just in case you thought all data center jobs were only concerned with dusty mainframes.
The vulnerable positions that saw the ax were your classic low-hanging, low-skills positions: those of data compilers who entered into the system airline reservation information that was e-mailed or faxed in. After the Internet brought automation, some 30 to 40 data compilers lost their jobs.
But those were low-skill positions, ripe for elimination, whether its cause is motivation or offshore outsourcing, right? Those types of jobs have nothing to do with higher-skilled positions, which will never be prey to offshoring or automation, right?
Lets hope so. Its nice to think there are some jobs that are still relatively safe.
Although Im not sure data compilers will feel comforted by that.
Write to me at [email protected]
eWEEK.com Associate Editor Lisa Vaas has written about enterprise applications since 1997.
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