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10 Factors to Consider When Estimating IT Staff Ratios Needed to Operate a Cloud Platform

By Pierre Moncassin

Pierre Moncassin-cropIn this post, I want to share with you some “rule of thumb” estimates on how many full-time equivalent (FTE) positions an IT organization may need to operate a cloud platform. Note: this is not an exact science, so I wanted to give you the practitioner’s approach. What are the general guidelines? What do I need to take into account?

Readers can learn more specific details around the different roles in the cloud management team in the VMware white paper “Organizing for the Cloud” as a starter. Here I use a generic term of “administrator” or “operator” to broadly describe the technicians/analysts/operators who manage and configure the tools on a daily basis. Here’s my list of factors to consider when estimating IT staff ratios:

  1. Number of lines of business. It stands to reason that the higher the number of distinct business units (lines of business) that are using the cloud, the higher the number and complexities of workflows to support, the more user profiles to manages, reports to produce, and so forth.
  2. Number of data centers. If the toolsets must manage multiple data centers, there will be added complexity in order to manage multiple environments, which often are in different locations.
  3. Level staff skill/experience. The higher the experience of the operators, the larger and more complex the infrastructure they can manage.  In other words, IT should require fewer FTEs to manage the same level of complexity in a cloud infrastructure. (This is a topic that deserves a separate article: “How the IT Organization Learns to Use Cloud Management Tools — and Over Time.”)
  4. Number of services. By this I mean cloud-type services, as in IT-as-a-service or applications. As a starter, determine how many services will be offered in the cloud service catalog.
  5. Workflow complexity. Factor in the internal complexity of the automated workflows. For example, on a scale of 1-5 (5 being most complex), a workflow with multiple approval points might score as 5, whereas a basic workflow as 1.
  6. Internal process complexity. Within IT, the organization with a higher number of mandatory internal process steps (which might all be in place for good reason) will likely need more staff (or it will take their staff longer) to carry out the same tasks as the organization with fewer internal process steps. A higher degree of complexity often develops in highly regulated environments, be it defense or civil administrations, or where an outsourcing provider requires rigid contractual relationships with inflexible approvals. Process and workflow complexity are related but separate considerations (all processes are not automated into workflows).
  7. Number of third-party integrations. The more integrations that need to be built into the automation workflows, the higher the workload for the operators.
  8. Rate of change. Change may be due to business change (mergers, acquisitions, new products, new applications), but also technological change (such as internal transformation programs). These may impact FTE requirements.
  9. Number of virtual machines under management. It may help to group into broad ranges: less than 100, 100 to 1,000, 1,000 to 10,000, and above 10,000. That range will impact FTE requirements.
  10. Number of user dashboards/reports to maintain. This can range from a couple basic reports to dozens of dashboards and complex reports. If the reporting is not sufficiently automated, the “unfortunate” administrators may need to spend a substantial part of their time producing custom reports for various user groups.

For those readers keen on modeling, each factor I’ve provided can be quite easily prorated on a 1-to-5 scale and turned into a formula. Others can be satisfied with applying as a simple rule of thumb.

My approach can be extended to VMware vRealize Automation or vRealize Operations management products, as well as other management tools. Stay tuned for a future article, as I am also at work to break down the roles far more accurately than “administrators.”

Meanwhile, consider the above factors I’ve outlined as basic guidelines. And a call to action for practitioners: Compare my guidelines to your metrics, and send me your feedback!

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Pierre Moncassin is an operations architect with the VMware Operations Transformation global practice and is based in the UK.