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Is the role of the storage admin going away?

by Hu Yoshida on Dec 7, 2009

John Webster posted on the changing role of the IT Storage pro based on a conversation he had with the CIO of a large technology company. This CIO was speculating that the role of the storage administrator within IT operations is going away.  This CIO believes that the segregation of IT operational departments along technological boundaries, server, network, and storage, is disappearing due to virtualization and the convergence of Fibre Channel and Ethernet within the data center.

There is no doubt that these forces will have a dramatic impact on the traditional roles of servers, networks, and storage, and will require a convergence of technical skills. However, I believe that the demand for storage professionals (storage administrators and storage architects) will increase as storage plays a larger and larger role within the data center. I do agree with John that today’s IT storage professionals will have to broaden their technology base to include networking as well as virtual server environments.

The role for storage professionals evolved in the early 1990’s when storage systems were externalized from the servers and larger storage systems were able to support multiple servers over SCSI cables. When FC Storage Area networks and iSCSI were introduced in the early 2000’s, some pundits predicted that storage would become part of the network and storage administrators would be replaced by network administrators. That did not happen. A storage based network had very different requirements than other networks and the role of storage professionals became even more important as data centers shorted out the complexities and advantages of a SAN. The same will be true as we move to virtualization and FC/Ethernet convergence.

Virtualization in the data center is occurring on multiple levels: server, network, and storage, and each level has an impact on the administration of storage. Server virtualization enables the consolidation of multiple servers, operating systems and applications. The effect on storage is a much higher I/O rate and more random I/O per physical port. This requires more knowledge of storage performance tuning.

Network virtualization, including NPIV and FCoE will drive consolidation of bandwidth, requiring expertise in alternate pathing and congestion management. Unlike IP traffic, storage traffic must be loss-less. When the network gets congested you cannot throw an I/O packet away and try again later. While server and network administrators may find it easy to implement FCoE, storage administrators will have to be more knowledgeable about multi-pathing and congestion management in a high bandwidth network.

In order to exploit the advantages of storage virtualization, one needs to understand the requirements of storage and data. Storage virtualization enables the automated movement of data across different cost tiers of storage depending on different data life cycle demands, and non disruptive migration for technology refresh. Storage virtualization can provide dynamic provisioning, thin provisioning, wide striping for increased performance, and disaster recovery replication for heterogeneous storage with one common set of management tools. Storage virtualization has also grown to encompass file and object as well as block virtualization. This type of knowledge and experienced is very specific to storage.

Storage is a unique technology field in many ways. It is one of the few modern technologies that still rely heavily on mechanical movements which present performance and reliability challenges. Unlike servers and networks, storage must also be concerned with the preservation of the state of the data that it stores even when outages occur. Data and storage are at the core of any business as are the IT professionals who architect and manage it.

Therefore, I do not see the role of storage professionals like storage administrators and storage architects going away. I see it being expanded to include virtualization and convergence of networks. I would be interested in hearing what you think about this topic.

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[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Avnet StoragePath™, Stephen Bishop. Stephen Bishop said: RT @jschrunk Is the role of the storage admin going away? http://bit.ly/6X13nM [...]

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