Virtualization: A Hot Area for IT Training

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One of the biggest challenges — and opportunities — IT professionals face today is growing IT complexity driven by globalization, increased teleworking, remote offices and new Internet and mobile technologies. Employees around the globe are working from home, branch offices and airports. In fact, 30 million U.S. office workers are expected to move to virtual desktops during the next five years.

These IT complexities, combined with the changing economic climate and renewed focus on the bottom line, are causing changes within the field of information technology as organizations strive to simplify, reduce costs and address data security challenges.

Today, virtualization is addressing these challenges for organizations worldwide. In many cases, it is the right technology solution at the right time, delivering better performance, security and cost savings — in areas such as facilities, hardware, software, energy and personnel. It preserves precious physical space and makes operations easier and more manageable.

With the shift to virtualization technologies, more responsibility is transferred to IT administrators. As with any new or fast-evolving technology, there is ample confusion about what virtualization means; how to best implement it in specific situations; how to extend it across the enterprise to include desktops, applications and servers; and the nuances of all the available technologies.

The red-hot virtualization trend also raises questions among IT professionals, who wonder how it might affect their jobs and careers. Ultimately, it’s causing many to look for ways to enhance their skills in an uncertain economic climate and fast-paced, ever-evolving IT industry.

Key Components of Virtualization

Enterprises that take a holistic approach to virtualization combine application, desktop and server virtualization technologies into one integrated solution. This reduces application management costs, saves space in the data center, reduces power and cooling costs, improves enterprise security and delivers better IT performance and an upgraded end-user experience.

First, let’s look at application virtualization, which essentially manages applications in a data center and delivers them on-demand to users anywhere, on any device. These solutions centralize applications in one location and can reduce the cost of application management by up to 50 percent. Citrix XenApp, for example, allows IT departments to centrally manage a single instance of each application and deliver it to users for online and offline use, potentially improving the end-user experience compared to that of a locally installed program.

Second, there are desktop virtualization infrastructure solutions that centralize desktop management and deliver desktops as a service to users anywhere. Centralizing desktop life-cycle management in the data center can reduce the total cost of ownership for desktops by up to 40 percent. Many of these technologies use a single image to deliver personalized desktops to both virtual and physical devices — in the data center or at the end point — and allow technology professionals to manage service levels with built-in performance monitoring.

Third, server virtualization cuts costs by transforming static and complex data-center environments into more dynamic, easy-to-manage IT service delivery centers. Through live migration, this model drives increased workload flexibility and the utilization of server resources, enabling server consolidation. This, along with automated multi-server management and provisioning, helps to drive power-saving benefits. Some of these technologies provide further value to organizations with a set of management and automation capabilities such as automated lab management, advanced storage integration, workflow orchestration and high availability.

Education as Part of the Strategy

Today, many organizations that have purchased virtualization solutions do not fully optimize the use of their technologies because their IT staffs do not completely grasp all the functionality and capabilities available to them.

As a result, enterprise IT departments are being pressed to develop the proper skills and talent to take advantage of the many benefits of virtualization. The need for organizations to plan smart virtualization paths, acquire and integrate the right technologies and employ IT professionals who are delivering the highest value from virtualization investments is making virtualization training and certification an integral part of every organization’s overall virtualization strategy.

The critical need for virtualization expertise provides an opportunity for IT professionals to gain new marketable skills that deliver greater value to their organizations, as well as prepare for professional growth and advancement. Today more than ever, IT professionals are looking for ways to develop new skills and ensure their marketability. Since virtualization is becoming more and more pervasive in the enterprise and the industry overall, IT professionals must improve and adapt their skills to become experts on virtualization technology.

For IT supervisors, investing in virtualization training for IT staff is a clear win-win situation: As workers become adept at applying virtualization solutions to solve problems within the enterprise, IT becomes more agile, reduces costs and delivers optimal service levels to its consumers. In addition, certification programs can help IT organizations and individuals differentiate themselves while measuring staff competencies objectively. It also shows a commitment to investing in people, which in turn fosters employee loyalty.

Unlocking the Power of Virtualization

To address the needs of IT professionals, virtualization technology providers have made virtualization training and certification programs a priority within their companies’ existing programs. These programs provide in-depth preparation for IT professionals at all levels — from administrators to engineers to system architects. IT professionals at every level can gain certification in one, two or all three virtualization areas: application, desktop and server.

Getting up to speed on virtualization technologies and gaining the skills and knowledge to make use of its many benefits takes time and commitment, however. Learning in a classroom environment provides the most effective foundation to build in-depth skills. This investment is bound to provide organizations with many returns. In fact, industry research has proven that companies with trained and certified IT teams see significant success by spending less time on low-value tasks, such as deploying and troubleshooting, and more time performing high-value proactive skills, such as maintaining and optimizing infrastructure. For those that cannot attend training in a classroom environment, some IT training organizations now provide alternative methods. For example, Citrix provides options such as virtual online training with a live instructor or self-paced online training. Both options provide students with the opportunity to practice what they have learned by accessing a live, remote lab environment. These training courses cover all aspects of virtualization.

Comprehensive training and certification programs that cover every major component of virtualization help IT professionals gain a unique, end-to-end perspective and well-rounded understanding of how virtualization can solve their organizations’ IT challenges. Acquiring the proper skills, knowledge and ability to apply best practices around the major components of virtualization helps ensure IT professionals who implement and administer these systems are getting the most out of the IT investments and leveraging all of the features available within application, desktop and server virtualization solutions.

Specialized Programs Based on Level and Skills

The Citrix Education certification program is organized into distinct solution paths that enable IT associates to achieve certification in application virtualization, server virtualization, desktop virtualization and application networking products. IT professionals also can demonstrate breadth by learning and training across a full spectrum of virtualization technologies.

Classes are designed for specific roles and functions to ensure participants are gaining useful knowledge and skills that are relevant to their jobs. As more companies embrace and recognize the benefits of virtualization, hiring managers are looking for candidates that have a combination of certification and experience with virtualization. More than ever, hiring managers are placing a high value on time spent in the classroom because they know this is an indicator that a prospective employee can add value quickly.

The upcoming advanced Citrix certifications will include upgrade paths that will make it easier for experienced IT professionals to keep their certification status up to date, as well as attain the next level of certification more quickly by accounting for and acknowledging previous training and on-the-job experience. IT professionals get credit for what they already know and skills they have already mastered. Professionals can take the appropriate-level training courses and then prove their capabilities via Citrix exams that evaluate their skills and levels of competence.

This flexible approach to training and certification helps organizations save time and allows IT professionals at all levels to focus on developing the specific skills they need to bring the most value to their organizations.

Recommendations for IT Professionals

So what should IT professionals do if they want to be as valuable to their organizations as possible? Fundamentally, they must be able to identify and implement solutions to real business problems. To that end, they should gain an understanding of their organizations’ current challenges, direction and priorities for virtualization. A good first step is to meet with their managers to learn both what’s most important to the organization today and what will be important in the future. Ask the question, “What are our IT objectives over the next three years?”

Having this conversation and creating a development plan to obtain the necessary skills is an essential way to take control of your professional destiny and choose the smartest way to build your career path in an area with huge opportunity. Keep in mind that training will play a significant role in your development plan, ensuring your virtualization skills bring your organization the best return on its technology investments.

From trainee to the most senior levels, it’s clear IT professionals are obtaining virtualization training and certification as a way to bolster the value they bring to their organizations. The key is to understand the full breadth and potential of virtualization solutions and build education into your overall virtualization strategy. 

Julieann Scalisi is managing director of education for Citrix Systems. She has more than 20 years of experience in the training and certification industry. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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