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Food for thought: Cloud computing technology minimizes human touch

The topic of innovation made for choice dinner conversation last week when President Barack Obama met with a dozen titans of the IT industry at a private home in Silicon Valley, Calif. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama wanted to know how lessons learned by the technology industry — a bright spot in the U.S. economy — can be applied to other U.S. industries as well.

It’s an interesting time to ask the question, given the shifting terra firma of the IT world. Convergence is the word of the day, from both technology and business points of view. Consider that, in the last month, global telcos have gobbled up cloud computing technology and content providers (Verizon Communications Inc./Terremark Worldwide Inc.; Comcast Corp./NBC Universal Inc.) to deliver digital content as well as cloud services. Meanwhile, traditional IT vendors of various cloud computing parts are forming alliances faster than you can say virtualization. Cisco Systems Inc., VMware Inc. and EMC Corp., for example, offer the Vblock converged virtual architecture, a “cloud in a box” solution for midmarket companies that seek the scalability and measured service of a cloud while maintaining control over private data.

Ever since the first PC was networked three decades ago, business computing has been on a rollercoaster: The dot-com buildout and ensuing bust; a cost-cutting wave of virtualization; the consumer-led influx of social networks and smartphones; and, now, cloud computing technology, with its associated risks.

In January, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra lit a fire under the National Institutes of Standards and Technology to accelerate the adoption of security and interoperability standards. Identity management remains a hurdle in this race, so the government has also announced initiatives toward a “trusted identity ecosphere.”

Let’s hope someone at the presidential dinner asked the “elephant in the room” question: If everything moves to the cloud, and the cloud is an automated environment, what will become of all the people who work in the IT industry?

“Yes, cloud computing will cause you to lose your job,” predicted Greg Shields, senior partner and principal technologist at Concentrated Technology LLC, an IT education and strategic consulting practice in Denver, Colo. “Any industry is going to get simpler when we figure out how to automate.”

But when one door closes, another one opens. Perhaps legions of IT staffers will become independent cloud brokers, transitioning to a growing small business/home office market as more people work remotely to reduce their carbon footprints. Maybe IT executives will dive into vertical markets to reinvent themselves, as Dell Inc. is attempting to do with its cloud in a box for health care.

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This reminds me of my journalism school days when we were told there would be fewer writing jobs because of the big, bad internet. There are still writing jobs out there, perhaps not all in journalism - you just have to be inventive with your skills and be willing to keep learning.