A few years ago, storage industry analysts said that organizations with at least six to eight servers and, ideally, 16 to 20 servers, needed an elite group of dedicated storage management personnel that could combine storage expertise with a customer-first attitude and sharp purchasing and negotiating skills. Today, many of those same experts believe that it is only absolutely necessary to deploy a dedicated storage team in environments where shared resources could potentially take down an entire IT environment.
"Organizations that manage large, monolithic, legacy systems require one or more dedicated storage personnel," says Bruce Kornfeld, vice president of marketing at Compellent. "These specialized staff know all the particular quirks and limitations of these systems and can best ensure that the system remains operational."
Kornfeld said at some point, a storage system may require so much specialized care that there's probably a business case for replacing it with a system that provides simplified control and greater operational efficiency. "It's important that we keep in mind that we are masters of our technology, not the other way around," he said.
David Scott, president and CEO of 3PAR agrees that environments where organizations are attempting to emulate utility storage through traditional or legacy storage products often require dedicated storage teams. Environments based on the perpetual virtualization of entire array subsystems through intermediary software and device layers (appliances, smart switches, some arrays) can result in brittle environments that require an elite group of storage experts capable of ensuring that everything works seamlessly together, he says.
"These approaches seek to mask, not eliminate, the complexity of underlying layers," says Scott. "This potentially increases, rather than decreases, the overall cost and complexity of the environment."
Scott says that as additional layers are added, array device management concerns are compounded by new issues surrounding scaling, error-handling, performance and interoperability.
"Such activities can delay the ability of IT to respond to the organization's needs with the agility that today's competitive environment demands," he says. "By contrast, true utility storage implementations feature integrated virtualization the automated management and configuration of lower-level components within a massively scalable system are much simpler to manage and do not require a dedicated storage team to implement or manage."
EqualLogic is another vendor that has sought to simplify storage and eliminate the need for dedicated management teams. "We are dedicated to the elimination of the need for dedicated storage personnel through storage management automation," says EqualLogic marketing vice president John Joseph. "We have put a lot of engineering talent into working on solving storage challenges so that our customers don't have to worry about them every day."
But others believe that dedicated storage teams are critical when the management, protection, and mobility of an organization's information are strategic to the core focus of the business.
"When an organization is drastically affected by loss of access to its information, it should consider devoting dedicated personnel who know how to protect, manage and share information effectively," says Richard Martin, director of EMC's Technology Solutions Group.
Wanted: Storage Skills
While there is disagreement on the need for dedicated storage teams, most industry experts believe that effective real-time storage management requires highly trained professionals.
Ron Trautwein, executive director of IT at Seagate, says that "dedicated or not," some skills are required for successful storage management: a trained staff committed to successful implementation; knowledge of all operating systems; in-depth knowledge of the storage arrays to be managed; knowledge of any database requirements; and expertise across all of the systems, applications and storage devices to be managed to provide assistance or technical help as needed.
EMC's Martin believes that the main skill that a storage team must have is the ability to discuss business requirements with business stakeholders in plain English, and then translate that discussion into measurable performance indicators and architectural terms. Also on his wish list is the ability to implement a flexible storage architecture that can adapt to rapid business change.
"This means that adequate storage capacity is available in each architectural tier, and that operationally, the team must have a complete service catalog in order to quickly provision the complete set of service requirements a business application or process might have," says Martin.
EqualLogic's Joseph disagrees that any specialized skills are necessary. He says that the implementation of an automated storage utility based on his company's PS Series arrays requires only a working knowledge of IP networking.
Compellent's Kornfeld believes that as an administrator, if you design your system the right way, it shouldn't be difficult to use, maintain and grow. "In this situation, the attributes to look for in a staff are the characteristics of any good hire," he says. "However, if you have a monolithic, legacy system, then you need to place a high priority on finding people with specialized knowledge and a knack for trouble shooting."
Just a few years ago many industry analysts firmly believed that if CIOs wanted to fulfill the potential for storage technology, they needed to call in an elite group of specialists, a dedicated storage management team.
Today that is not necessarily the case. In some situations, there is a need for dedicated storage teams, but not in all cases. One alternative to dedicated storage teams could be getting the right tools to make storage management easier.
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