Managing Storage: Trends, Challenges, and Options

How are IT and storage managers coping with the organizational challenges posed by the explosion of data, increasing criticality of digitized information, and rapid introduction of new storage technologies for virtualization and cloud?

Poorly designed or managed storage infrastructures put the entire business at risk in the case of a catastrophic failure. A robust storage infrastructure requires highly reliable equipment as well as a strong team of experts to manage it efficiently.

Key Challenges

IT/storage managers and storage professionals across companies of all sizes face the following mission-critical challenges:

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

Explosive growth in storage requirements and a widening storage technology knowledge gap across the industry are making all of the above mission-critical tasks even more challenging.

The Impact of Cloud Computing

There is a rapid adoption of virtualization and cloud computing technologies. This transformation impacts the skill sets of entire technology teams.  Migrating to a highly virtualized cloud environment is a significant transformation. It requires a considerable amount of technology and business planning.  Since cloud computing requires cross technology domain skilled expertise, IT professionals are required to have necessary knowledge across technologies that will be used in cloud infrastructure and services.

Complex Storage Environments

Despite the differences in industry segments and data center size, there is a strong consistency across companies in terms of the technology deployed, storage management practices, and challenges.  Nearly all critical data is now stored on external disk storage subsystems. The average usable capacity is approximately 1.93 PB. Factors such as growth in storage requirements, larger capacity disks and subsystems, and affordable pricing have led to large storage configurations.

Storage subsystems, SANs, and backup/recovery technologies are most commonly implemented, followed by NAS, DAS, and replication technologies. Technologies such as storage virtualization and cloud (private and public) have started to emerge strongly in the organizations. Each of these storage technology segments is unique, offering its own specific business and operational value. Each requires a different set of skills for effective design and management. Lack of knowledge and expertise in a specific segment can lead to under-deployment of one or more of these technologies.

Criticality of Storage and the Need for Formalized Storage Groups

Storage infrastructure is mission-critical. Losing storage in a catastrophic situation can severely damage an organization’s business. When a disaster does occur, information on storage subsystems can be lost permanently unless a well-designed recovery mechanism is planned and implemented.

In addition to reliable equipment, a well-structured storage group of highly skilled professionals is critical to building and maintaining a high-performance, high availability storage infrastructure. An increasing number of companies have recognized this need and have created formal storage management groups.

Storage groups are responsible for overall planning, design, implementation, monitoring, administering, managing, and operations. While the structure of the group, titles, and roles may not be standardized, responsibilities and tasks are common across companies. The emergence of virtualization and cloud technologies has placed new training and development requirements on storage managers and IT professionals.

The Storage Technology Knowledge Gap

Although managers prefer to hire experienced or certified storage professionals, a severe shortage of such skills in the marketplace is causing managers to resort frequently to internal recruitment. The skills gap continues to widen with the adoption of virtualization and cloud computing by organizations.

The shortage of experienced professionals in storage and emerging technologies (e.g., cloud and Big Data analytics), along with the lack of education in the marketplace and in academics, have restricted the growth of information storage and management functions and adoption of emerging IT and business transformation technologies.

Recommendations and Solutions

IT managers and storage managers must ensure that:

  • They evaluate the impact of virtualization and cloud computing on the skills of their storage and other technology teams, and plan for them to acquire new relevant skills in virtualization, cloud, or related domains.
  • Skills assessments and development of IT/storage professionals are top priorities to address growth and transformation.

The serious shortage of skilled storage professionals also creates attractive opportunities for the next generation of IT professionals and for those looking for a different career in a challenging, high-growth, and dynamic industry.

Excerpted and available for download from EMC’s study and white paper: Managing Information Storage: Trends, Challenges, and Options 2012 — 2013

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