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VMware administrator job description calls for vSphere, cloud know-how

Meredith Courtemanche

Job seekers who are looking for VMware administrator positions and who have loads of certifications and knowledge of the latest and greatest software versions might not be as qualified as candidates with broad virtualization skills and experience.

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Part of the reason is that companies with their eye on cloud computing and hypervisor tiering need to hire IT pros with broad-reaching skills to help them move beyond basic virtualization. 

Must-have VMware administrator skills

Many VMware customers with private, hybrid or public cloud on their radar run day-to-day operations with vSphere virtualization, and will use vCloud Director to manage their cloud environments. Experience with vCloud Director is a sought-after skill, according to Adam Winter, president of SwiftecIT Inc., an IT service provider in Shrewsbury, Mass., that is hiring a VMware administrator.

Any virtualization administrator not on the cloud track ... is going to suffer a long, painful job death.

Stuart Burns,
virtualization specialist

About 25% of the IT shops that responded to TechTarget's 2012 Cloud Pulse Survey use some form of private cloud, and about 16% have adopted a hybrid cloud model. Public cloud adoption is at around 25%, the survey data shows. "There is a massive, massive move to cloud for medium-to-large companies, and with that, self-provisioning," said Stuart Burns, VCP, a Fortune 500 virtualization specialist. "Any virtualization administrator not on [the cloud] track ... is going to suffer a long, painful job death." Very few enterprise IT shops claim full conversion to cloud computing, however, so VMware administrators will need vSphere expertise for the foreseeable future.

SwiftecIT requires its employees to be versed in the latest version of Microsoft Windows Server products and Exchange, the latest VMware releases, and current switch and router technologies. However, the core technologies in vSphere 5.x existed in vSphere 4.x, so job seekers without vSphere 5.1 experience are still candidates. "Now, if the applicant has only worked with VMware Infrastructure 3 [VI3] and nothing newer, that's a problem, because the technology works differently," Winter said.

Administrators without production experience with the latest vSphere version should be aware of features VMware has put out in the last year or so, said Brian Knudtson, a SearchVMware contributor and design architect at Vital Support Systems, an enterprise technology provider based in the Midwest.

"The white-hot ticket in VMware at the moment is DynamicOps [integrated into VMware's cloud tool offering] and [vSphere] 5.1," said virtualization specialist Burns. Applicants who have Windows Server 2008 or 2012 and VMware skills can command "some sick salaries," he said. VMware administrators who have experience with VMware vMotion and Storage vMotion, cloud enablement tools, and VMware High Availability catch the eye of SwiftecIT's Winter.

Meanwhile, Todd Sanders, senior partner and enterprise data center architect at ITOTS Networks LLC in Silver Springs, Md., scans resumes for outside-the-box adaptability with PowerCLI, VMware's PowerShell command-line snap-in. Beyond the hypervisor, experience in designing and implementing storage and networks complement vSphere qualifications on most projects, he noted.

Virtualization jobs in the multi-hypervisor era

Though many VMware shops are adopting Microsoft Hyper-V or other hypervisors to supplement their VMware infrastructure, some hiring managers in shops that are 100% VMware said they don't see much value in multi-hypervisor experience. Upgrade experience is of value, however, and that can involve conversion from one hypervisor platform to another, Vital Support Systems' Knudtson said.

ITOTS' Sanders' administrator wish list includes expertise in migration and conversion techniques. "The person needs to have worked with different hypervisor solutions, because being able to convert a VM to run in another format is paramount," he said.

All in all, the right applicant should be adaptable, said Adam Fowler, IT operations manager at Piper Alderman, a law firm in Australia that runs on Microsoft Hyper-V. "There's a lot of cross-skilling, so as long as the applicant is open to using different technologies and shows quick learning abilities, [there are] no issues," he said.

Virtualization specialist Burns finds multi-hypervisor requirements vary depending on the company. Some shops may use vSphere and Hyper-V, but with different groups assigned to each hypervisor infrastructure, "never the twain shall meet."

No VCP, no VMware job -- not so fast

While the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) certification is important in hiring decisions for VMware jobs, it isn't a must. Some companies take experience over certifications. "Experience is worth more than a piece of paper stating that you know VMware," SwiftecIT's Winter said.

Vital Support Systems' Knudtson concurred -- with a caveat. "I know many great VMware admins I'd trust with my environment that don't have a VCP," he said. He suggests, however, that anyone in a VMware virtualization job should be eager to achieve their certification.

One job seeker considers certification to be a validation of knowledge. "Experience teaches many things, but certification proves that what you learned is perfect and tested," said Parth Bhatt, who holds VCP5 and Microsoft Certified Professional and Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist titles, and wants to enter the IT workforce as a VMware administrator.

ITOTS' Sanders has earned a number of certifications, as have the engineers on his staff. However, "at the end of the day, it boils down to relationship-building and having a critical understanding of the customer's problem."


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