Vendor-Neutral Foundations for Efficient Storage

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The global storage market is a maturing, growing, multibillion-dollar industry. Its products range from single internal disk drives to global storage-area networks. Vendors worldwide develop and offer competing and complementary products and solutions that vary widely in their technology, complexity, and configuration and support requirements.

As the storage market evolves, so does the need to establish a standard set of baseline measurements to allow storage professionals to validate their knowledge and skills. To meet this demand, many storage vendors created education services and certification programs so professionals could become proficient on their products and understand the infrastructure of vendor-specific network configurations. The proliferation of vendor-specific certification programs presents a challenge, however. Budding storage professionals have so many choices, they don’t know where to start. In addition, the majority of programs are designed to be stand-alone, with their focus on a specific vendor’s products and configurations.

Although storage vendors’ advanced credentials are designed as incremental certification tracks, higher-level certification exams rely on prerequisites from a limited set of vendor tracks. These advanced credentials often include features and capabilities that are unique to a specific vendor’s product offering, creating a logical connection between the credentials and the products on which they are based. Such differentiation can be beneficial for storage vendors, who can rely on professionals certified in their own products as a near-captive audience. For many of the more basic storage certifications, however, the terminology and technologies covered are industrywide concepts that do not depend on specific product implementations.

Thus, at the more basic levels, many vendor certification programs cover the same concepts, skills and knowledge. Professionals who want to become certified in storage technologies from more than one vendor often have to retake courses and exams that cover the same concepts as programs they already completed with other vendors.

This creates problems for professionals who have to spend time and money on redundant components of certification programs. In addition, even storage vendors are concerned about creating programs that might cover concepts and technologies that are not directly linked to their products’ features and capabilities.

As training and certification dollars shrink in the quest to do more with ever-smaller profit margins, it becomes imperative for certification candidates and certification providers alike to focus their limited time and resources on those programs that speak to specific strengths and value-added features.

Therefore, the maturation and growth of the storage market not only fosters a proliferation of credentials but also encourages a trend toward more efficient certification programs.

One way to achieve such efficiencies in certification programs is to use a set of vendor-neutral base certifications that many vendor programs accept as a prerequisite for their more advanced credentials. Within the storage industry, in 2004 the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) created a vendor-neutral program to meet this need.

The SNIA Education Committee developed the SNIA Storage Networking Certification Program (SNCP) for storage professionals at all levels to provide a strong foundation of vendor-neutral, systems-level credentials that integrate with and complement individual vendor certifications.

Through the SNCP and the job task analysis (JTA), on which the certifications are based, the SNIA is establishing a uniform standard by which individual knowledge and skills can be judged. The SNCP includes one online qualification for sales professionals; three certifications covering concept, technologies and standards and solutions; and one overarching partner credential.

Storage Network Foundations
At the concept level, there is the Storage Network Foundations exam, which leads to the SNIA Certified Professional (SCP) credential. This is the entry-level credential into storage networking certification for new and experienced professionals. It covers the underlying technologies and terminology pervasive throughout the storage-networking space. Preparation for this exam includes a minimum of three days of intense instructor-led training or five days of lecture, as well as hands-on lab work. This training provides a vendor-neutral introduction to storage networking concepts, technologies and solutions, and it explores fundamental storage concepts, disk technology, storage architectures, storage management, and storage and networking protocols such as Fibre Channel, Internet Small Computer Systems Interface (iSCSI), Fibre Channel over Internet Protocol (FCIP) and Internet Fibre Channel Protocol (iFCP). Finally, the training covers key solutions including data sharing; networked attached storage (NAS); disaster recovery preparation, extended SANs; business continuity, backup and recovery and storage consolidation.

Storage Networking Management and Administration
At the technologies and standards level, the SNCP includes a Storage Networking Management and Administration exam, which leads to the SNIA Certified Systems Engineer (SCSE) credential. This credential targets storage professionals who administer, manage, implement, integrate and support storage networking. Preparation for this credential includes passing the SNIA Storage Network Foundations exam, plus a minimum of three to five days of instructor-led training. The preparation covers the processes, technologies and solutions encountered in day-to-day management and administration of storage networks, as defined by the SNIA Storage Networking Certification Program.

Storage Networking Design and Assessment
The solutions level is covered in the SNCP with the Storage Networking Design and Assessment exam, which leads to the SNIA Certified Architect (SCA) credential. This exam targets the complex topics and skills required to assess, plan, design and optimize storage network solutions. In addition to passing the SNIA Storage Network Foundations exam, preparation for this credential includes a minimum of four to five days of instructor-led training, covering storage-networking assessment, planning and design. These skills and concepts enable candidates to build a solution using industry best practices and standards including Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and IT Service Management (ITSM) principles.

The SNIA SNCP does not include any product-level exams or certifications, but it is specifically designed to provide vendor-neutral foundations that can work in direct partnership with storage industry vendors’ product-based certification programs.

As such, 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. The SNCP initially was launched with McData, Network Appliance and Finisar/Medusa as the first industry partners. Since the program’s inception in 2004, Hitachi Data Systems, Cisco Systems, EMC and Hewlett-Packard have joined as certification partners for the SCSN-E credential.

Additional vendor partnerships are in progress, establishing the SNCP as a widely recognized, vendor-neutral set of credentials. Thus, the SNCP can serve as a single launch pad for professionals who want to become certified in the storage networking industry before specializing in one or more vendor products and technologies. From relatively small beginnings in its first year, the SNCP program has quickly grown in numbers and recognition. During 2004, the program administered 250 exams. This number increased to 825 exams in 2005 an

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