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Career choices for storage admins as technologies converge

There is collateral damage in datacentre convergence, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for storage administrators to stick with storage-centric skillsets. Two solutions exist

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The drive towards convergence could make an endangered species of the storage administrator. As technologies collide, and with the rise of the cloud, datacentre jobs increasingly demand generalist skillsets.

It is not a case of storage specialists suddenly becoming undesirable. But the fact is, the work they have traditionally carried out has edged toward the domain of less specialised IT professionals.

In converged and hyper-converged infrastructures, challenges around solution design have often disappeared. It is no longer necessary to figure out how to connect arrays and servers to the Ethernet network or Fibre Channel fabric because the whole package comes pre-configured.

And when it comes to software, such is the level of abstraction that it is increasingly likely that all that needs doing is to define volumes and their performance profile, and that is within reach of entry-level IT staff.

These functions not likely to be accessed from a dedicated storage interface either, but from a system administrator’s console. Besides the need for someone to replace failed disks, there are hardly any spheres of operation that justify investment in a storage admin’s salary.

To maintain qualification and salary levels, storage admins need to evolve their competencies to encompass those increasingly in demand in the datacentre.

There are two broad roads you can follow. Firstly:

Be a storage expert in certain vertical sectors

It is possible to keep building on specialised storage competencies as long as you work in certain vertical sectors. Converged and hyper-converged environments tend to get used for the most common applications, but there are verticals and particular workloads where specialised storage skills will continue to be required.

That is the case, for example, with technologies around object storage, on-site and in the cloud. Object storage needs some consideration in implementation design and is generally the preserve of specialist storage suppliers, and that provides the storage admin with a key to involvement in the procurement process.

Another example is with organisations that work in artificial intelligence, for which storage is an essential component. You can also include in this category all analytics applications where it is important to get the right balance between access and capacity.

But you can’t just replace your knowledge of Fibre Channel with that of erasure coding. As a storage specialist in a vertical sector, you have to acquire skills that address the issues faced by your employer. They are currently likely to need your expertise in three areas – networks, security and the cloud.

Networks, because they are currently undergoing huge transformations and it is necessary to have someone capable of making the right choices. Security, because it is a domain that is monopolising large amounts of investment at the moment, whatever the size of the company. And the cloud, because organisations need to have a strategy in mind.

The second broad approach is to:

Upgrade to converged datacentre skills

The other solution is to abandon your specialist storage hat to become a general infrastructure administrator.

The advantage of gaining competencies in servers, networks, and so on, is to get a high-level view of datacentre infrastructure so as to better understand how it can be made more efficient.

The aim is to be as conversant in administering hyper-converged infrastructure as you are with storage arrays. Enterprises going through digital transformation projects depend, above all, on admins that develop contemporary skillsets.

Today those competencies are: automation, by configuration of management console settings; scripting, to automate those that the console doesn’t handle itself; and interaction with application programming interfaces (APIs), to integrate third-party systems into automation scripts.

These skills can make you an expert capable of helping realise three very current types of datacentre project.

These are, firstly, business intelligence applications that demand that data is made available to specific servers.

Secondly, there are DevOps strategies in which developers need resources from which they can decouple on demand without falling foul of enterprise governance. A second aspect to DevOps strategies is the division of applications into modules that can work on hybrid architectures as soon as the automation and API interconnections have been correctly made.

Thirdly, there is identity and access management, which is built on the assumption that resources are protected without harming user productivity.

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