Storage Professionals and the Road to Success

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Demand for SAN/storage professionals continues to grow, fueled by increasing demand in storage capacity. Certification Magazine’s 2005 Salary Survey of 35,167 respondents found storage professionals had the second-highest average salary among all IT specialties.

The growth in the salaries of storage professionals is due to the tremendous growth in storage resources and the dearth of trained storage professionals. The capacity of disk storage shipped in 2005 grew to 653PB (petabytes), which was a year-over-year increase of 54.6 percent.

How do you take advantage of, fit into and not get run over by the explosion in storage technology? With the industry in flux, how do you position yourself to succeed for the next five to 10 years?

Storage is primarily a homogeneous game. Competing storage systems are unable to talk to each other, and heterogeneous SANs function, but have severe restrictions. In this environment, taking a vendor-central approach makes sense, and it will help you in the short term. However, storage is becoming more heterogeneous, and we are starting to see virtualization software that enables communication between opposing vendor products. In addition, as all of the vendors use the same basic fibre-channel technology, vendor-neutral certification can be leveraged to support vendor-specific products. To position yourself for the future, you should combine vendor-neutral and vendor-specific training and certification.

As you prepare to become a storage professional, you will want to leverage your existing skill set and position yourself for future growth. It is important to develop a five-year plan with goals set every six to 12 months. Some of the goals will be large—for example your first position as a storage professional—and some will be small, such as taking a particular storage exam or course. To succeed, you need to assess your progress, skills and plan every year.

There are many levels of the role of a storage-network administrator, which is the most common job function and is a natural extension for UNIX or Windows system administrators. Storage-network administrator is a broad description that covers multiple roles and vastly different sets of responsibilities. Storage-network administration can be divided into four distinct levels that require unique skills sets and levels of expertise:



  • Storage-network operator
  • Small-storage-network administrator
  • SAN specialist
  • Large-storage-network administrator


Storage-Network Operator
The storage-network operator is the first level of storage network administration. The responsibilities of this person are to configure fibre-channel switches and to provision storage on a storage array. This person is not responsible for storage-host integration. This role is for those with little system administration experience.

This job function is typically found in companies with large, centralized data centers and mainframe environments. In these organizations, they have successfully implemented programs to transition mainframe operators to be storage operators. Many companies do not use operators. Their entry-level position will require the skills of a small-storage-network administrator.

The training requirements of a storage-network operator include: topics in the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Storage Network Foundations (S10-100) exam; proficiency in zoning and managing a fibre-channel switch; and proficiency in provisioning virtual LUNs on a storage array.

Many people learn to zone and manage a fibre-channel switch without really understanding what they are doing.

If you have limited or no SAN experience, you need to take a course that includes hands-on labs. There are courses available that provide hands-on labs and cover the content needed for the SNIA Foundations exam. To succeed in your job role and to pass the SNIA Storage Network Foundations exam, you need to have hands-on experience zoning and managing a fibre-channel switch.

Provisioning storage is a relatively uncomplicated process that entails enabling host access to previously created logical volumes. For this position, many companies would hire and train you on LUN provisioning if you satisfy the first two requirements. There is relatively little pressure in this position, and the tasks are generally defined, static and repetitive.

Small-Storage-Network Administrator
The small-storage-network administrator is the next step up the ladder. Experienced systems administrators with five or more years of experience can usually start at this level. In addition to switch zoning and management, the responsibilities of this position include storage-system administration and host integration. A small SAN has 64 or fewer ports and includes one mid-level or entry-level storage system, two to four switches and approximately 10 hosts.

In addition to the requirements of a storage-network operator, the small-SAN-storage administrator needs to: update firmware and manage a host bus adapter, troubleshoot host/switch/storage system connectivity problems, troubleshoot basic host/storage performance problems and administer a small to midsize storage system

If you are an experienced system administrator, a SNIA Storage Networking Foundations course that includes hands-on labs will prepare you for the first three items on this list. If you are a storage-network operator without extensive system administration experience, you will need to take a SAN Host Integration course. These courses are held by the storage system vendors and by smaller storage training companies.

There is a significant amount of overlap between a hands-on SNIA Storage Networking Foundations course and a SAN Host Integration course. The lab exercises will be similar, but the SAN Host Integration course includes creating mount file systems, and creating, extending, importing and exporting volume groups. The SNIA Storage Networking Foundations course will spend more time on managing the switch and zoning. Both courses should include information on HBAs and HBA drivers, LUN provisioning, configuring the host operating system for fibre-channel storage and when possible, dynamically adding storage to the host.

Be careful when choosing a course, as courses with the same name can be very different from vendor to vendor. Items you should ask the training vendor include: How much time is spent on hands-on lab exercises? How many students per lab setup? Which host operating systems, HBAs and fibre-channel switches are used in the lab exercises?

For the SAN Host Integration course, it is imperative the lab includes the host operating system(s) that you will be working on. Host integration is the most error-prone and troublesome part of managing a SAN, and each operating system has its own unique set of tools, processes and idiosyncrasies when connecting to fibre-channel storage. If you will need to support Solaris 9 and Windows 2000, make sure they are both included in the lab. Do not accept Solaris 8 or 10 or Windows 2003. Likewise, if you support SUSE Linux, require them to have SUSE Linux in the lab, and do not accept working on Red Hat Linux. The particular fibre-channel switches and HBAs are not as important as the operating system. However, if you can find a class that aligns with the products that you will support on the job, you will leave the course much better prepared.

In addition, you will need training on the particular storage array you will support. Storage arrays in this category are generally easy to use and include a Web-based management tool. In most cases, the training requirement can be satisfied through Web-based course or by the vendor implementation specialist who installs the array.

Small-storage-network administrators are usually found in small- and medium-sized businesses or in remote offices of

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