OpenStack Foundation addresses skills shortage with cloud admin certification

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OpenStack Foundation announces Certified OpenStack Administrator certification, that will require individuals to pass an online exam

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Despite taking relatively few people to run an OpenStack environment, one of the main barriers for businesses adopting the cloud platform has been access to relevant skills. And while this may be a positive sign that demand for OpenStack strong, scarcity of trained professionals also creates real problems - namely driving up the total cost of ownership for deployments.

However, at the OpenStack Summit in Tokyo, OpenStack Foundation executive director Jonathan Bryce revealed the launch of a new certification to help “establish a good standard baseline of expertise and skills that can be available worldwide”.

“One of the things that we always see is the need for talent: we need more OpenStack expertise,” said Bryce.

He added that he expects the certification to become a “valuable credential” that job candidates, and that it “will encourage new entrants into the OpenStack community and expand the talent pool within the industry”.

The Certified OpenStack Administrator certification is due to launch early next year with other accreditations, such as one for engineers and developers, likely to follow at a later date. 

Access to skills is something that the OpenStack Foundation has sought to address with the launch of its online Training Marketplace in 2013. See also: OpenStack Foundation aims to improve training access with online search tools

However, a shortage of expertise has remained. 

This is, in part, due to the increasing demand for cloud-related skills, said OpenStack Foundation COO, Mark Collier.

“It is a relative phenomenon, the growth of cloud in general as a market and a model is explosive," he told press and analysts at the user group event. "It is an incredible rate at which companies are embracing the cloud technologies, both public, private and hybrid.

"So what happens is that no matter how fast we can grow the talent pool, the market seems to be going faster.”

Skills shortage driving up OpenStack deployment cost

Nevertheless it has presented a significant issue for OpenStack. A recent report from analyst firm 451 Research highlighted that, when total cost of ownership is taken into account, OpenStack is - in certain circumstances - more expensive than setting up proprietary clouds on-premise. See also: OpenStack ‘more costly’ than VMware and Microsoft for private clouds

While reduced cost is not the only reason to deploy OpenStack - some argue that this should not be the reason to embark on a potentially tricky implementation, with avoidance of lock-in a clearer benefit - it could make some prospective users hesitant to embark on an implementation.

“One of the challenges with OpenStack is finding qualified people,” 451 Research chief analyst, Eric Hanselman told ComputerworldUK. “Finding OpenStack admins, architects, has always been a difficult proposition, and more importantly an expensive one.”

He says that the certification is “a good step” towards achieving easing access to skills, but is no guarantee of resolving these issues.

“What certification does is start to open up a path to be able to provide some assurance that even relatively entry level people have an understanding of what OpenStack is all about, that hopefully you can start to ease some of that salary pressure,” he said.

“We will see how far and how fast that certification programme goes, but it certainly is a necessary step to get to a point where we are creating enough OpenStack capable, technical teams that it starts to relieve some of that pressure.”

Wider skills challenge

According to IBM’s Jesse Proudman, whose OpenStack startup BlueBox was acquired earlier this year, it is not just a concern for OpenStack, but for the wider IT industry.

“If you look at application development in general, there is a shortage of talent in total. Then if you look at OpenStack and the breadth of all the technologies that it takes, that is what makes it complicated. 

“So we have very little talent to begin with, and then an even smaller amount that knows all these specific technologies.”

Proudman continued that the shortage is an “education problem” in the US, though is equally true in the UK.

“It starts at the universities and it is going to be a long term thing - it starts at elementary, high school. That is the bigger challenge: it is not like we can just go out and educate a giant pool of  developers on OpenStack and we will be set, there is a shortage [across the board].”

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