SNIA: Helping Pros Enter the Growing Storage Marketplace

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The amount of digital information created and replicated each year is growing at astounding rates, boasting a tenfold jump in the past five years alone. And it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

As a result, the challenge of managing, protecting and securing this data also has risen exponentially. Organizations continue to look for specialists who can manage networked storage effectively and can design and deploy storage networking solutions using a variety of tools, products and methodologies.

According to a March white paper by the International Data Corp. (IDC), titled “The Diverse and Exploding Digital Universe ,” more than 1 million new storage professionals will be needed by 2012.

For an IT network or system administrator making the move to storage administrator — either in job title or in responsibility change — the process of acquiring and validating skills in this practice can seem daunting. Should he go for a vendor-specific or a vendor-neutral certification?

Most network storage hardware and software vendors have a certification track, allowing a professional who utilizes their equipment to validate and credential skills, stay abreast of new developments and understand more fully the capabilities and functionality of these products. A key advantage in a vendor-sponsored certification is that an IT professional learns what he or she needs to know on the products currently being used.

These are helpful certifications, but storage networking is more than a single product or set of tools. It’s often about routing, switching, deploying disk and tape devices, and resolving challenges between interoperating and often competing technologies. In addition, backup and security strategies, as well as the management, provisioning and securing of storage for an organization, must be addressed in a comprehensive manner — which requires broader knowledge.

Often, however, a new storage administrator is given the task and responsibility of managing the organization’s storage without a clear road map for developing this breadth of knowledge. Because of this challenge, in 2004, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) created a vendor-neutral certification program to ensure storage networking professionals could validate their skills over the complete range of knowledge areas. To date, more than 3,000 IT professionals worldwide have earned the SNIA vendor-neutral certification in network storage technology.

The SNIA credential is by design inclusive of a host of technologies that need to be mastered in today’s complex IT and storage environments, so there is no conflict in getting a vendor-based certification and a SNIA certification. SNIA offers a certification program that recognizes that storage professionals want to stay current with as much knowledge in their field as possible while continuing to hone their skills on a particular set of hardware and software tools.

By blending the unique strengths of each type of certification, a storage professional can craft a set of credentials that are both industry- and product-specific, which is a great way to stay current and flexible in today’s fast-changing IT workplace.

Foundational Certifications
SNIA developed the Storage Networking Certification Program (SNCP) for storage professionals at all experience levels. The SNCP provides a strong foundation of vendor-neutral credentials that integrate with and complement individual vendor certifications. SNIA relies on a thorough and regularly updated job-task analysis to identify the core knowledge and skills areas at every level of the storage networking career. It then designs a comprehensive instrument that tests subject-matter knowledge.

The resulting SNCP includes three certifications covering introductory concepts, management and design of storage networking technologies, as well as one overarching partner credential. Through the SNCP, the SNIA is establishing a uniform standard by which individual knowledge and skills can be judged. Passing the Storage Network Foundations exam earns an IT pro the SNIA Certified Storage Professional (SCSP) credential. The SCSP is the entry-level storage networking certification for both new entrants and experienced professionals crossing over from another realm of IT work. It covers the underlying technologies and terminology that drive storage networking.

Training for this certification — offered by a variety of SNIA-authorized training companies — provides a vendor-neutral introduction to storage networking concepts, technologies and solutions. It explores fundamental concepts, disk technology, architectures, management and protocols — such as Fibre Channel, Internet Small Computer Systems Interface (iSCSI), Fibre Channel over Internet Protocol (FCIP) and Internet Fibre Channel Protocol (iFCP).

Additionally, the certification’s blueprint and learning objectives cover key solutions including data sharing, network attached storage (NAS), disaster recovery preparation, extended storage area networks (SANs), business continuity, backup and recovery, and storage consolidation.

More and more professionals are recognizing the value of this foundational certification. In fact, a recent Request for Proposal for the management of a U.S. government digital storage facility specifically requires all employees working on-site at the government data center be SNIA Certified Storage Professionals.

Instead of spending time and money taking a variety of redundant introductory certifications, the Storage Network Foundations certification is increasingly viewed as a trustworthy and accurate validation that the SCSP holder has a broad and comprehensive exposure to the basics of storage networking. With training and certification budgets already tight and getting tighter, this certification represents an efficient use of resources.

Advanced SNIA Storage Certifications
At the management level, the SNCP includes a Storage Networking Management and Administration exam that was updated in September and ultimately leads to the SNIA Certified Systems Engineer (SCSE) credential. This credential targets storage professionals who administer, manage, implement, integrate and support storage networking. Training for this credential includes passing the SNIA Storage Network Foundations exam, usually by taking training courses that last three to five days and cover the processes, technologies and solutions encountered in day-to-day management and administration of storage networks.

Although training companies offer these courses worldwide, SNIA has created a hands-on training facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., where students can learn on real equipment in a lab where storage networking standards are being developed.

At the design and provisioning level, SNIA offers the Storage Networking Design and Assessment exam that leads to the SNIA Certified Architect (SCA) credential. This exam targets the complex topics and skills required to assess, plan, design and optimize storage networking solutions. In addition to passing the SNIA Storage Network Foundations exam, training for this credential normally includes a minimum of four days of instructor-led training, covering storage-networking assessment, planning and design. These skills and concepts enable candidates to build storage solutions using best practices and standards such as Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and IT Service Management (ITSM) principles.

The SNCP is specifically designed to provide vendor-neutral foundations that can work in direct partnership with storage industry vendors’ product-based certification programs.

Certified Storage Networking Expert
By creating a combination of broad familiarity with storage networking technologies, as well as a focus on a particular vendor’s products, an individual has the requisite expertise to command respect and recognition in the marketplace. Accordingly, the highest level of accreditation in the SNCP — the SNIA Certified Storage Networking Expert (SCSN-E) — consists of a combination of all SNIA exams, plus a certification from one of the program’s storage industry partners. Partner companies are Brocade, Cisco, EMC, HP, Hitachi Data Systems and NetApp, with additional vendor partnerships in development.

SNIA Certification: Strong Foundation, Global Growth
Each month, more than 100 individuals validate their skills and knowledge and become SNIA certified. Where are these IT professionals coming from?

• Thirty-seven percent are from the Americas.
• Thirty-seven percent are from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
• Twenty-six percent are from Asia Pacific.

Also, storage professionals in India are showing significant interest in SNIA’s certification program due to the increasing amount of offshore assignments in IT.

Rick Bauer is director of technology and education at the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA). He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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