So You Want to be a Cloud Architect? Part I

Cloud ArchitectLately, I’ve been taking a look at the role of a cloud architect. What does that role look like? How does one acquire the necessary skills? Where do aspiring cloud architects turn for training? Is it possible to acquire the skills to be an effective cloud architect by taking a course or two? Rick Blaisdell wrote a great blog about a month ago called “Top Cloud Skills Employers are Looking For” that I would highly recommend reading.

Cloud Architect Training, Today

I recently wrote a blog about a Forbes article I read by Jason Bloomberg about the concept of cloudwashing. I think this idea applies very well to the cloud training offerings out there today. If you take a look, many of the cloud training courses that currently exist from established vendors are simply rebranded with “Cloud” as a highlight.

The Valuable Cloud Architect

The cloud architect should possess a healthy combination of the following skills:

  • Technical –especially virtualization with a splash of programming and automation
  • IT operations – in particular the concept of IT services and an IT services portfolio
  • Understanding of your business, its initiatives, its challenges, etc.

Technical Skills of the Cloud Architect

Technically speaking, cloud architects need to bring their past experience to bear, validated by the following certifications:

  • Current VCP
  • ITIL v3 Foundations
  • At least one vendor certification (e.g., AWS Certified Solution Architect)
  • Basic knowledge of programming and automation(2)

Technical competence is more of a pre-requisite for a cloud architect. It should be assumed that a cloud architect has some hands-on experience with these items. As they say, these technical skills are necessary but not sufficient for the complete cloud architect. Having acquired these certifications, an architect would probably be hip to the recent progression of IT that occurred since virtualization became mainstream. If you’ve read this far, you’d probably agree that virtualization alone does not mean cloud computing. However, many of the fundamental characteristics of cloud borrow from virtualization and are practical due to virtualization.

Other Core Skills of the Cloud Architect

Maybe the role of the cloud architect is less technical than we think. Business and market knowledge is absolutely critical for the cloud architect, for several reasons:

  1. Products, features, and prices are changing day to day in the market for cloud services – why is this happening and what will happen tomorrow?
  2. The traditional corporate IT market is, effectively, now a competitor in this market for IT services
  3. Using cloud concepts, new companies are being formed and are growing rapidly – some of these companies may challenge your own business – how can the cloud architect understand them and improve their company’s competitive advantage, recognize partnership opportunities, bring products to market more rapidly using cloud and other emerging technology?


The third point is a bit of a departure from what we’ve seen as a cloud architect. This says that a cloud architect should really be a specialist in business issues. More than that, we think that Corporate IT should look to transform to specialize in the business rather than specialize in providing IT services. IT departments should be an Innovation Center for the business. More on that in a future post.

The market for cloud computing is changing every day. Established providers like Amazon Web Services introduce new features and products while also dropping prices. Established companies like Microsoft up their game quickly. New companies form to carve out a niche or challenge an established provider. Barriers to entry are low. Economists call this an active competitive marketplace. What does this mean for consumers? Consumers enjoy significant downward pressure on prices for cloud services (especially for commodity IaaS). This also means many new products from which to choose. For this reason, we think the modern cloud architect also needs to have some knowledge of the following:

  • Consulting Experience (particularly, how to assess an organization)
  • Relationships Between the Customer and Provider(1)
  • Essentials of Behavior in a Competitive Market(1) – specialization, substitutes, complements, network effects

I’ve seen a few posts lately suggesting that individuals in corporate IT need to retool. Here is one of those posts. I definitely agree with the author that IT administrators need to shift focus to services rather than servers. What this post leaves out is a recommendation of which new skills are needed. Which skills or certifications should an IT administrator or architect acquire? How do they get them? Later in this series, I’ll propose a training path for the new role of Cloud Architect, why certain skills are important, and how to acquire them.

For Part II, I’ll propose three different types of cloud architect, outline the responsibilities that individuals in this role might have, and describe a path to obtain the skills needed to deliver in this new role. Leave a comment below with your thoughts & stay tuned for part II.


By John Dixon, Consulting Architect

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