How Big Data Challenges IT Storage Managers

This post was excerpted from Managing Information Storage: Trends, Challenges, and Options 2011-2012 from EMC Corporation and Global Knowledge

The unprecedented growth of data, its increasing importance, and business’ dependence on digital information are leading to larger and more complex information storage environments that are becoming more challenging to manage. From the perspective of data availability and protection, the information storage infrastructure is the most critical component of an overall IT infrastructure. It plays a key role in making applications work efficiently, both locally and across multiple sites. With the increasing complexity and criticality of storage, highly skilled and focused storage groups are as mission-critical as the technology being deployed.

Challenges Faced by IT/Storage Managers

These challenges are common to both large enterprises as well as SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) sectors of the industry:

  • Managing storage growth
  • Designing, deploying, and managing storage in a virtualized server environment
  • Designing, deploying, and managing backup, recovery, and archive solutions
  • Storage consolidation
  • Making informed strategic/big-picture decisions
  • Designing, deploying, and managing disaster recovery solutions
  • Lack of skilled storage professionals
  • Designing, deploying, and managing storage in a cloud computing environment
  • Convincing higher management to adopt cloud
  • Managing external cloud service providers

Each of these activities is on-going at various levels in each of the companies. Activities such as backup/recovery have been in practice for decades; still the professionals believe that they are not doing enough or not performing these activities well.

Complex Storage Environments

Data centers across the Americas, Europe, and Asia have deployed very similar storage solutions, including hardware and software. The sizes vary based upon business requirements, or in some cases a particular vendor may have a stronger presence in a given environment. However, on the whole, the deployed technology and challenges are very similar.

Storage Technology Segments

Storage technology deployment and its importance to the data center aligned with general market trends for each of the storage technology segments.

Each of the technology segments is unique, bringing its own specific business or operational values. For example, SAN and NAS provide connectivity options with unique functionality, while BR and replication technologies provide options for information protection against planned and unplanned outages. Technologies which enable cloud computing continue to generate significant interest.

Data Movement to Virtualized and Cloud Environments

Migrating to a highly virtualized cloud environment is a significant transformation, requiring a considerable amount of technology and business planning. Companies recognize the need for having an in-house team of professionals to lead the planning, design, and implementation of cloud and related technologies. Since cloud computing requires cross-skill expertise, IT professionals are required to have necessary knowledge across technologies that will be used in cloud infrastructure and services.

Formalized Storage Groups

Storage infrastructure is mission-critical, and a significant part of infrastructure budgets is allocated to storage-related products and services. A well-structured storage group of highly skilled professionals is key to building and maintaining high-performance, highly available storage infrastructures. Job titles and descriptions of dedicated storage professionals are evolving. With the advent of storage virtualization and cloud computing, the industry is expecting the expansion of core skills of storage professionals to include systems and networking skills.

Responsibilities

Storage groups are responsible for the overall planning, design, implementation, monitoring, managing, testing, and operation of all components in the infrastructure. Skills and processes are required to manage these tasks against expected expertise in one or more assigned “specialty” or storage technology segments.

Storage Group Skills and Performance

This is a key challenge for storage managers because it underscores the very real skills gap in their teams. Sub-optimal skills yield sub-optimal storage deployment. On the other hand, a well-skilled team will lead to higher productivity, better technology deployment and management, and optimal utilization of existing staff.

Sources for Hiring and Development

The most significant challenge faced by IT/storage managers is the shortage of skilled storage professionals in the marketplace. In fact, lack of skilled storage professionals is the most serious industry challenge. Considering the aggressive hiring requirements and plans, the lack of skilled resources becomes a serious bottleneck. There is a shortage of skilled manpower in the industry. Capable, experienced, and skilled individuals are usually not available to be hired.

Given that there exists a scarcity of certified or well-skilled storage professionals in the market, managers frequently resort to internal recruitment. Often internal recruitment involves moving an existing valuable employee who has different expertise (such as operating systems, databases, and so on) but has limited storage technology knowledge, which creates a knowledge gap in both technologies.

On-the-job training, technology vendor training, and self development by reading manuals typically cover usage and management of products and technology that is either already implemented or is in the process of being implemented. In addition, there is a need for wider and deeper training focusing on underlying technology concepts, planning, design, and management. This will enable storage professionals to independently and more efficiently design and deploy storage infrastructures that fully leverage the capabilities of all applicable storage technology segments.

Recommendations and Conclusions

From the perspective of data availability and protection, the information storage infrastructure is the most critical component of an overall IT infrastructure. It plays a key role in making applications work efficiently, both locally and across multiple sites. With the increasing complexity and criticality of storage, highly skilled and focused storage groups are as mission-critical as the technology being deployed.

Due to a lack of comprehensive storage technology education in the industry, most storage professionals have relied on on-the-job training, vendor product training, and self development.

Though probably adequate for day-to-day administration, a lack of broad and deep knowledge hampers the ability to make informed strategic decisions and to proactively plan, design, and manage storage infrastructure.

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