FreakoutITGeek's Blog

Random IT postings from Freakz

Demise of IT Support (part 2)

In my original posting on the Demise of IT Support, I mentioned how IT had become dull, grey and boring.

So what’s the future for IT support?

Well, I presently work for a Scottish council, based within a Scottish high school, and during my time within the school I have only had one approach about what it’s like to do IT support. The council department I work for have had one or two ‘works experience’ people appointed to shadow groups of colleagues each year. But my feeling is that there is little interest in the role, people aren’t interested in IT. Social networks, websites and games are what interest the kids, but none of them want to know how they work or how do they create & support the infrastructure.

As IT is becoming more user friendly, easier to use and companies like Apple make it easier to get support ( ie Genius Bar at your local Apple Store, telephone support via AppleCare and Apple’s one 2 one training) and assuming that trend continues ( looking at the current US development of Microsoft stores and Android popup support locations) then how much demand will there be for IT support in the future?

Add to that the increasing use of remote tools, that allow companies to resolve issues from their head office IT via their company network and reducing or eliminating the need for on-site IT support, or consider the low cost of the Windows PC, Android / Apple tablet etc, making such devices almost disposable. The future of IT support does not look bright.

Now, before I continue, I realise that IT constantly changes and past risks to IT support have not materialised. I’m thinking about VNC, presently used for remote support (both Apple and Intel presently use the protocol). VNC stands for Virtual Network Computing, and it was originally envisioned as a way to have a low cost, low specification PC make use of a server, with the server performing the processing, data storage etc, with the PC acting like a Graphical window, as if it was a display monitor plugged into the server, but with each PC capable of running its software independent of what other VNC connections were doing. This concept was the brainchild of the Olivetti & Oracle Research Lab in Cambridge, UK.

For those of you in the corporate world then you will recognise the concepts from VNC as Citrix, which acts in a similar method. With WISE graphical terminals, PCs and even iPads and iPhones, all able to connect to a powerful Citrix server farm then the same principal is presently possible. The older and more tech savvy will probably be visualising Unix or Linux and the tools that come with those systems. Windows users will recognise the concept as Remote Desktop or some other remote control tool such as TeamViewer, CarbonCopy, PC Anywhere and a whole host of other tools presently available on a multitude of platforms.

So the risks to IT support are present and although past risks, in the form of Centralised processing and dumb terminals (using the old Novell / unix concept / terminology ), has not come to fruition, what could the future hold ?

Personally I see the future risks being from the Internet. To be more specific Cloud Computing.

Cloud computing offers similar advantages to the centralised processing concept that VNC and Citrix offer and more.

When I think about Cloud computing I’m not thinking of Microsoft Office 365 or even the current offerings from Google Docs and Apple’s iCloud ( which I’ll probably post about another time). What I’m thinking about is Amazon’s massive server farms in central locations thought the world, each packed with instantly available virtual Linux and Microsoft Windows servers, with full resilience, fall-over, shared data, instant backup and recovery, instant scalability (automatically scalable and configurable on demand).

How can IT support survive when existing servers can be moved to this virtual Goliath. Removed is the need for companies internal Server support team as the servers are managed by Amazon, configurable automatically, instantly scalable and test systems can be up and running in seconds at a fraction of the traditional costs of even purchasing a server, never mind running, securing, supporting and maintaining it. Removed is the need for Desktop IT support as users only need internet access, cheap PCs, tablets & smart phones can be used with standard build images (possibly just the manufacturers default install), lowering the total costs of ownership.

Even network support roles could be reduced or the emphasis moved from companies to Telephone companies, Internet Service Providers ( ISP ) and organisations providing similar services ( WiMax / Satellite / fibre optics etc).

So if this is the future, where are the existing IT Support staff going to find work? Amazon appear to have automated most of their processes to minimise their costs and after years of running their on-line shopping platform, they should know what they are doing and will probably be able to hire the best staff at the lowest wages ( where else will they get the work or experience ?). Added to the scenario is the likelihood that the support is done using remote tools, reducing the need to have a large number of support staff at each site and with that many servers and server farms they probably have the servers built in bulk at low cost so hardware failure is a minor inconvenience and such hardware may just be sent for recycling instead of repaired or contracts with the manufacturer could allow for on-site, preconfigured and imaged swap out.

So Amazon is unlikely to be a likely route for future employment, so what about other avenues for support?

Hardware manufacturers are a good option, the likes of HP, Dell and Apple are all possible as they will need staff to repair desktop PCs, tablets and smart phones. The risk here is that in a highly competitive market the wages are likely to be low and highly skilled staff will probably not be the main focus, with work likely to be more assembly line, monotonous and highly repetitive, with likelihood of automation and the probable lack of growth, development or getting a chance on making a change or performing something challenging is probably slim.

My personal view is out of these options Apple is the best option. Apple appear to be the only one that stands out due to the creative nature of their customer base, their advances in technology, the varying support roles available (specialist, Genius, Creative, Family room, etc) and the overall feel of the organisation. In comparison to the other options, with all of this going for it, it’s defiantly my favourite. However the roles are primarily retail and although highly sought after at present ( at least 4 times over subscribed according to
rumour), the wages may not be comparable to existing IT support roles and they may not be suitable for some existing support staff (who are used to more back office, less experienced in customer facing roles, they may struggle with the high pressure and Retail nature of the roles).

The last option is to jump ship and either get out of IT for good or move to a programming role.

With the potential for a large number or organisations moving to the cloud there should be a demand for people to adapt existing systems to work with the new infrastructure or, for companies that are taking a leap of faith, there will be opportunities to create new software systems to replace existing back office systems with cloud ready equivalents, replacements and improved/rationalised systems developed for the future needs of the organisation.

So will IT support, as we presently know it, become obsolete in the future ? or will other changes to IT change the nature of IT support, only time will tell.

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