IT professionals have always had a significant and challenging role: managing the intricate web of systems and networks in a constantly evolving IT landscape. The job requires ongoing evaluation and implementation of new technologies that increase productivity while saving costs.
One technology that has become increasingly important is storage. Data is being generated at a faster rate than ever before due to a wide variety of factors, including the exponential growth of applications and Web-generated content.
This has led to increases in storage requirements and a larger percentage of IT budgets being allocated for storage purchases. Storage concepts such as disaster recovery, remote mirroring, and backup and restore have invaded the consciousness of business management executives everywhere.
Until recently, it was rare to find someone with the title of "storage administrator" within IT organizations. But the rapid implementation of storage systems and their complex nature have necessitated IT personnel with specialized skill sets. Unfortunately, some companies are approaching this challenge the wrong way. In today's competitive economic climate, there has been a focus on cost cutting, and IT is no exception. As a result, many network or system administrators are increasingly being charged to take on the role of storage administrator.
However, the better route for businesses is to hire seasoned administrators whose core competency is in storage. Network and storage administrators certainly play complementary roles, but there are complexities involved in storage that differentiate it from other networking technologies.
Many companies push unqualified or inexperienced networking specialists into storage administration. This may seem cost-effective, but the time required to "learn the ropes" and gain real-world experience can make this a more expensive option in the long run.
Even more importantly, there is very little room for mistakes in storage administration. Unqualified personnel who are not well-versed in storage could make costly, irreparable mistakes that jeopardize data integrity.
Storage administrators bring a wealth of specialized skill sets to businesses. They are specially trained to manage centralized, complex, and heterogeneous storage environments, and they are experts in safeguarding data and making it continuously available.
For example, storage capacity planning is an art in itself. The storage infrastructure directly affects network performance. If there is insufficient storage capacity to handle data and software applications, the network will inevitably slow down. Since fast access to corporate data directly affects productivity, it is a top priority.
Storage administrators must be able to quickly assign new storage and make it available to users, and they must also act as "fortune tellers." Users are often completely unaware of how much disk space they use or if they are even able to provide accurate projections of storage and workload requirements. The storage administrator must accurately allocate capacity, while keeping an eye on future demand.
Storage administrators also need to be adept at managing a wide variety of storage environments comprising heterogeneous platforms, ranging from traditional direct-attached storage to network- attached storage (NAS) and storage area networks (SANs).
Storage specialists also need expertise in the various storage topologies and the advantages and disadvantages of each. In addition to popular interfaces such as SCSI and Fibre Channel, new options-including iSCSI, Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP), and InfiniBand-are emerging, each with certain benefits. Only by understanding them thoroughly can administrators determine which one is best for their organization.
Data is a company's most valuable asset, and it is the responsibility of storage administrators to protect that data from system failures, viruses, and disasters. Storage administrators are experts in implementing a solid disaster-recovery plan, which is key to preventing the loss or contamination of data.
Although the word "disaster" may conjure up images of floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes, the possibility of employee sabotage and computer viruses has also become a reality. Disasters result in lost productivity and profitability, and storage administrators must be experts in tasks such as backup and restore, virus protection, and data replication.
Storage is a multi-faceted technology that is best served by specialized storage administrators who are experienced in the management of storage assets. Although businesses benefit the most when network and storage administrators work in tandem, network administrators should focus on the networking environment, while storage administrators concentrate on the storage environment. Your best option is to hire storage administrators who can improve overall efficiency in the use of storage resources, reduce administration costs, and maximize business productivity by making data continuously available.
Steve Lefferdink is a vice president at MTI Technology (www.mti.com) in Anaheim, CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.