After reading a story about the results of a recent TechTarget salary and careers survey of nearly 300 data center managers and administrators, I wanted to share my thoughts as I am are hearing a similar thread from my customer base globally – anywhere from being strapped for skilled resources to stalled career growth.

After the recent downturn and restructuring, many IT roles have evolved and with the widespread adoption of server virtualization we see this permeating data centers. As data center professionals adjust to these changes, they are torn between their operational and strategic deliverables – unable to balance the two.

“I’m torn between my operational role and becoming more strategic,” says David Fouts, data center systems administrator, Capital Region Medical Center, in the story. This is a common theme among these professionals. With raises hard to come by (only 67% received a raise of 5% or less), Fouts goes on to say, “Just finding time for larger projects and staying on top of them” is a challenge. ‘Keeping the trains running’ is a common adage here – “You never know what kind of fires are going to pull you away from what you’re doing,” Fouts notes.

It doesn’t come as a surprise when ‘long term’ projects like data center disaster recovery (DR) and an upgrade from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010, as well as ‘long overdue’ projects like a CRM upgrade go by the wayside. However, getting the DR site up and running, for example, has become priority one given how strategic virtualization is in driving a competitive edge for many companies.

Another question for data center professionals like Fouts is how to get to the next level? While 38% of respondents to TechTarget’s salary and careers survey want to rise in the ranks — to the CIO level or even beyond to a business role — their current roles may not allow for that course.

It is people like Richard Gay, senior infrastructure architect, at NewPage Corp., who are using their experience to influence business decisions. Gay took a bold step by in sourcing the data center leveraging virtualization.

As noted in the story, NewPage’s “main data center facility in Wisconsin now runs 400 virtual machines on 25 blade servers. By eliminating the bulk of its managed data center services, the company achieved substantial cost savings, to the tune of $18 million a year, Gay estimated.” His 15 years of experience and 11 certifications have helped him work strategically with the business side but his next move isn’t clear. “I’d like to have room for promotion. But I don’t want to go into management.”

Drop me a comment if you share the same sentiments as Foute and Gay. I believe that data center roles should evolve to keep pace with the changes in how the data center supports the business.