Now, in the age of cloud computing, payload administrators (for lack of a better term) can leverage virtualization to almost ignore infrastructure operations. (I say "almost" because there are fundamental concerns related to things like security that must be taken into account.) Infrastructure is "someone else's problem", and can easily be handed off to shared IT services or even a third part infrastructure service.
Are you a Virtualization Administrator or Payload Administrator?
I think the quote above from CNET pretty perfectly describes the largest challenge to the adoption of cloud computing in big business. Many larger companies are not yet familiar enough and trusting enough of 3rd party cloud parnters to outsource their IT infrastructure.
My prediction is that many larger companies will create their own virtualized data centers and the data center support group will provide internal cloud services to their business unit customers. Of course this may be different for companies that are not in the IT industry and do not consider IT one of their core businesses. For a company that wants to focus on core business and wants commoditized IT, a 3rd part cloud partner may be a good deal. Especially as the cloud services marketplace matures, companies like Google and Google Partner Cloud Sherpas, Amazon, IBM and others will fine tune their product/service offerings and be able to offer real IT bargains.
So, to answer the question posed in the title of this post - will the new job title of Virtualization Adminostrator be a real career path, or will their be subject matter experts in each functional area that are more like Payload Administrators? I think the answer is that both of these job functions will be used in different environments. Companies whose core business is in fact based on IT, will want to keep closer tabs on their virtual environments and will have system administrators who work within the virutual environment just as they do in the physical environment of non virtualized data centers. Business units, developers, and project managers working with application lifecycles will probably be more like Payload Administrators. They will be more concerned with programming the applications and less concerned on what back end they are running on.
However, no matter how much you virtualize your environment there is always going to be a need for people who understand how technical elements and business processes come together to create the user experience. Troubleshooting skills, technical expertise, and a firm understanding of the business you support are all key elments of IT System Administration that are not going to change any time soon. What does change (almost daily!) is the technical specifications of the systems and environments we are supporting.
What does this mean for the average system administrator? It means keep studying the key products and services in the virtualization marketplace. Add in related technologies such as storage. Also keep abreast of concepts in application development lifecycles such as agile development. And don't get so starry eyed over the cloud that you forget the non-sexy but bet ever important concepts of information security, backup, and disaster recovery.