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Career in the field of Virtualisation

Rahul loves star-gazing. It is one of his favorite pastimes. As a child, he would always hear stories about UFOs from his cousins in the US. Back then he would try and steal as much time on his rooftop as he could, trying to spot something, anything, unusual. After a while the UFOs lost their charm but the possibility of life beyond earth still fascinates him. At seventeen, he can finally do something about it. He discovered the [email protected] project, which employs Virtualisation to process the date drawn from scanning the skies for aliens.

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Facts


Why bother?

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The industry is extremely young and hence there are huge possibilities of growth as more than 90% of firms are yet to be virtualizes their storage or servers.

How do I progress faster in this profession?

If you are good at computers, analytics and programming, you will fit right in and since it is knowledge-intensive industry, constant learning is important.

Where am I ten years from now?

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Domain expert in Virtualisation, heading your own team of processing engineers.

What’s in it for me?

While one enters the industry at a relatively good package of Rs. 6-8 lakhs, it can also go upto Rs. 30-35 lakhs in 7 years time. In terms of power, the industry is quite flat though one can switch to the managerial side after 10 years or so.

What is it?


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Rahul’s joined the online project [email protected] – a part of the project SERENDIP started by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence of SETI institute. He downloaded the [email protected] software. Like every other computer, his computer also carries lot of unused processing cycles. So, whenever he is not working on his computer, he leaves it on for the software to make use of that idle time. The software downloads a 300 kb chunk of data that comes from the Arecibo Radio Telescope, in Puerto Rico. Different packets of data are sent to the thousands of computers which have downloaded the SETI software for similar analysis. The results of the analysis from all these computers are ultimately sent back to the SERENDIP team and used to help in the search for extraterrestrial signals. In this way, a 2.5 MHz band of the observed spectrum is processed in the [email protected] project, across the world, and then finally comes back to the one nodal point. The process -grid computing – is one of the many ways in which Virtualisation is all set to revolutionize our world.

A NASSCOM report refers to Virtualisation as the next ‘disruptive’ technology (the previous one being the internet). Much like the internet, it has the capacity to change the way organizations work. By creating virtual space for date storage and maximizing server capacities, it allows companies to reduce storage and power costs drastically. Data sharing becomes more simple as all servers are inter-connected. Hence, problems tat would require access to large amounts of data, or a large number of processing cycles, can be solved much faster. This improved efficiency gives companies a huge gain in power, speed and collaboration.

Why is it needed?


At the industry level, there are two kinds of virtualizations that are in use commercially – storage Virtualisation and server Virtualisation. While the former helps to expand the storage capacities of companies through vitalizing and hence expanding storage space, server Virtualisation helps in implementing out that storage in the least server space possible. Both of them use complex methods to attain these objectives and both help in cutting down companies cost substantially.

There’s another buzz word in the virtualization industry – cloud computing. IBM, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, yahoo and more recently, AT&T, have already entered this race to the clouds. The technology helps save information at a distant server owned by the ‘cloud-provider’. The biggest worry for the clients though is the reliability of storing data at a distant server and also the security of that data. while the technology is expected to be a big part of the future, currently it might have to cross a few bridges.

Currently only 4-5 percent of servers in Indian industry have been virtualized, leaving more than 90 percent of the market untapped. Companies are aware of the importance of the technology and hence the industry is bound to grow.

The Growth Story


According to an IDC report, Virtualisation will rise dramatically by 2010. The report states that “More than 1.7 million servers will be shipped for Virtualisation activities, resulting in 7.9 million logical servers. This will represent 12.6 percent of all physical servers in 2010, compared with just 4.5 percent of server shipments in 2005.” Gartner projects the global market size for virtualisation to be close to $ 19.2 billion by 2010. Grid computing is another aspect which Gartner thinks can be a great opportunity for Indian IT.

Currently, the big players in the in server virtualisation market at VMware and Microsoft, while NetApp and EMC in storage virtualisation. Quite notably, all Fortune 100 companies use VMware software solutions. This is one industry that insiders say has not been hit by the recession. Rather, the recession is leading to more work being off-shored to India in this industry-perhaps one of the very few industries that can say so in these times. One usually enters the industry on a particular platform, i.e, Linux Windows or Unix. Based on these platforms comes the need for developers in these specific fields. The developers can then again be classified as kernal developers and application developers. Kernal developers work on the basic operating system (OS) modules. The application developers work on the user mode and user interface. At the other end are engineers who are required for testing the software and hence the term ‘testing engineers’. The testing engineers have their own verticals of growth -test engineers, automation engineers, test architects etc.

From The Practitioner


27 year old Divya Jain works as a software engineer with Brocade Communications Ltd. A software engineer from Pune University, he has been in the field of storage virtualisation for over four years now- a field that requires constant innovation to merge and create space.

It a coincidence that he landed in this field. Jain says, “When I started out, I was working in the product area and I had to deal with core systems in Linux. The reason why I could enter this field is quite simply because I had studied computer sciences in my college. My very first firm was AMDOCS.”

Sometime in the middle of last year, in the immediate aftermath of the financial market crisis, his current company had laid off a few people. However now, when the US is caught in a full-blown recession, his industry is seeing more off-shore work coming in as the low-cost factor continues to play out.

Since the field is new, the technology is still being understood. The work is complicated and requires constant knowledge improvement. Jain says, “We have to constantly upgrade our knowledge. It’s part of our job to carry out external reading. Everyday we spend close to 20 percent of our work time on online forums and e-books. It takes a long time, about 4-6 years, to become specialized in this field.”

However, that doesn’t mean a slow growth in salary or promotions. Jain says, “For two years you remain at the base level, as a junior engineer. While the salary differs from company to company, usually one starts at Rs. 3-4 lakhs per annum. In four years, you reach the mid-level and in eight years one can become a Senior Developer. Even though there is a difference in designations, the industry is quite flat. There are fewer managers than in other industries.”

He thinks it is a good industry for those who want to keep learning about technology and earn good money. What reassures him about the industry is the fact that there are so many big firms who are there in the field and they are continuing to invest. The number of clients is increasing and hence he is hopeful. He adds, “The added bonus is that the job doesn’t really ever get monotonous. At least until now it hasn’t. Maybe if you stick to a particular product line, then it can get boring. Then again, you wouldn’t learn more about a product line until you are in it for a while. Hence what is required to stick to this industry is a strong grounding in programming, algorithms, a willingness to learn and patience.”

From The Employer


Gaurav Makkar works as a Senior Engineer at NetApp, one of the market leaders in the server virtualisation business. His function involves working as a researcher and a network architect in the firm. Even though he has been in the technology sector for over 14 years now, he has only been around in the field of virtualisation for less than two years, almost as old as the industry itself. So what can one do to be part of this industry, which is going to completely alter the way we look at storing our data? Makker says, “There is no buzzword at the entry level. We just look for a sound educational background. One should be good at computers, analytics and programming. A good software engineer will do. We largely pick up fresher as there are very few industries that build the kind of skills we are looking for.”

But apart from this, makkar says that after a while the industry does look at specializations, “For example, a program developer must be good at MS architecture or OS architecture. Then we do need core developers and engineers and for every 10 core engineers, we also need 100 application engineers.” One of the greatest strengths of this industry, he thinks, is its relatively flat nature. “When you start out in this industry, you join as a member of technical staff (MTS) and your interaction wit your seniors in the firm is not based on hierarchy. Rather, even today, may role is not to lead a team. I am a senior engineer, but my role is that of an individual architect and researcher. It gives me the space to work better without thinking about the politics around work. There are managers who are on a different vertical. So while our job is to provide the server solutions, it is the manager’s job to see to it that the implementation is done efficiently.” For those who want to join the management, there is that option too. Once one crosses the level of a senior manager, the choice is offered.

What are the required skills?


Makkar feels that to grow in this industry one needs to build on problem-solving skills. He says, “One should know how to get one’s job done. How should  I aim at this problem to solve it? How to convey the idea in the best possible manner to the person I am working with? And yes constant learning never hurts as this is a new field.”

He sees the industry becoming more specialized by the day – as demand for specific kinds of virtualisations increase, hence the need for domain experts. “Domain experts have such great value in the US market. That is going to happen here as well. If one keeps moving from one field to another, one can never attain specialization. Even within the organization, you move  in a vertical. The good thing is young people today show an aptitude that might help them in moving in that direction. Fresher these days aren’t naive. They like applied research and want industry oriented research. They are focused.”

And for those keen on starting their own firm, Kakkar is definitely hopeful. “There are of course the big guns like NetApp, EMC, VMWare and Microsoft – but even today there is space for small start-ups to fill the gaps. There are smaller firms that offer adapters for virtualisation. But expanding would be a problem as infrastructure troubles would always bother them.

Sample of a job description


We are currently looking for an architect (SAN or NAS Virtualization) to be based at Bangalore with the following skills:

  • Individual will have a Masters Degree in technology with 12-18 years of IT development experience, with incursions into architect typical roles.
  • SMust have in-depth experience and knowledge in storage software (preferable), UI, applications (e.g. SQL, Exch).
  • SMust have strong experience in Windows, architecting (win32/ 64, SDK) complex software products.
  • SMust have broad understanding of upcoming and current technologies, such as virtualisation, cloud computing, SaaS and in areas of storage, networking and telecom.

Desired Candidate Profile


  • Must have demonstrated experience in creating POCs for solutions (integrating existing products for field solutions) and future direction (integrating new technologies into roadmaps).
  • Must have demonstrated in-depth experience in Windows for any of the following areas; system programming, web based programming, database/application programming.
  • Highly skilled in C, C++, C# and working knowledge in Python, Java and .Net
  • Must have evidence of artifacts such as patents, whitepapers, blogs and articles on technology.
  • Must have some participation in industry forums, such as IEEE, SNIA, etc.

Senior/ Lead Linux Kernal Engineer


Sample Job Description

We are looking for a virtualisation/ senior Linux kernal engineer, with at least four years of experience.

  • Ability to port the Linux kernel to a new CPU architecture
  • Expert in virtualisation technologies such as Xen, L4 or UML is a plus
  • Ability to design, architect, develop on Linux kernel internals such as file system code, memory management, scheduler.
  • Expert C programmer
  • Experience in one CPU architecture and its virtual memory concepts.
  • Experience in one of the assembly languages such as Intel, ARM, MIPS, PowerPC or similar.
  • Ability to use open source software development tools such as git, gcc cross compiler tool chains
  • Experience in embedded systems.
  • Experience in SMP and concurrency.
  • Fluency in English.

Responsibilities


  • This is an exciting hands-on work experience, since you are going to be developing on the core subsystems of an OS kernel and virtualisation software. Since the software is open, your name will take its place as one of the core developers.
  • You will be asked to help in porting Linux to a new architecture, write low-level file system code, work on enhancing memory management software, the scheduler, paging, contribute in modifying kernel configuration and build system documentation and testing.

Mid Career switch


The flexibility to switch from this field lowers as you spend more time in the industry. “It’s best to switch at the beginning, as after that one becomes more specialized and more suited to this industry’s needs than anywhere else. Though it is possible to switch within the server, storage and network virtualisation industries.” Divya says. However, what happens in case one wants to change one’s career mid-way after being a part of virtualisation for a good 5-6 years? Makkar says a switch within the industry is possible, but beyond this it can be a little difficult.

As far as Divya is concerned, he doesn’t see himself moving out of the industry any time soon. He reasons, “The industry has just started out. India is moving up the technology ladder and more than a back-end place, it is becoming a hub for development. There are newer sectors such as network virtualisation where you virtualizes over network capabilities. One basically decouples the network from the server. It is still in a nascent phase and much like the rest of the industry, even that will grow.”

The potential risks of being a part of this industry is that it can make you too specialized. So one has to gauge in the initial years if one is suited for this industry or not. If one were to get in a particular product line, the job can also become monotonous. though the advantage is that after 10-12 years one can become a domain expert. Otherwise the industry does offer managerial roles but only after 4-5 years of experience within the industry.

Educational/ Training Institutions


Makkar says, “There are of course the top most colleges such as the IIT and the IISc Bangalore; the students we like to pick up are largely from electornics or computer science background colleges, such as BITS Pilani, BHU, the NITs are also good.”

As for colleges that offer good courses in computer sciences, he thinks well of his alma-mater, Pune University. However, the top-notch colleges like the IITs and the NITs do stand out.

  • Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur has a special course on Grid Computing.
  • Institute of Hardware & Information Technology (Enterprise networking), Amritsar.

In most cases a basic degree in software engineering and networking helps. In most computer science courses, these aspects are part of the syllabus.

Source : Digit Fast Track to Tech Careers: Your Handy Guide to Everyday Technology

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