Systems administrators make the best SAN administrators

Learn why systems administrators were the first SAN administrators, and why systems admins are often the best SAN admins.

After people, a company's most important asset is its data. System administrators have been acutely aware of this for decades.

Even when the majority of disk was direct attached they had become masters at the presentation, organisation, protection and securing of server storage using a vast array of physical and logical management mechanisms inherent in their various hardware platforms and operating systems. The enduring task of many administrators was to satisfy the seemingly irrepressible desire for more filesystem or raw volume space for application developers or DBAs. The requirement to provide this storage in a manner which would ease future administration has kept them in good stead.

When centralised storage technologies emerged, in the form of intelligent disk arrays, administrators found their management was eminently similar to the maintenance of servers themselves. The arrays contained elements that had a high degree of familiarisation, including CPUs, memory, ports, batteries and not least the actual spindles. However, the greatest acquaintance was felt with the software that ran within the arrays, in addition to the code which was used to interface with them. Many mid-range machines ran versions of operating systems with deeply entrenched administration communities and the high-end arrays utilised software that vastly resembled command and graphical utilities used by system engineers for what had appeared time immemorial. These characteristics were shared by the switches that arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, when the transition from arbitrated and local loop topologies finally progressed.

Thus, it was clear that administrators were best placed to inherit this brave new world of centralised storage, running on a new ultra fast protocol that sped down optic fibre and was all connected together via nascent and strange devices that resembled the network switches of old, but not quite. In order to de-risk the investment caused by this unfamiliarity, many organisations chose to convey the responsibility for the implementation and control of these new environments to those staff that were held in the greatest technical esteem, in terms of platform experience and exposure - the system administrators.

They were indeed best placed to carry and fulfil this convenience of function, time and place. They all understood the paradigm of storage and moving it away from the server to a centralised cloud did not change any of that, especially since the administration of that cloud was performed by the application of methodologies and tools that were a natural progression and supplement to their already existing skills base. Disk had always been an integral component of the system, and hence it was almost a certainty that ownership of the network into which that disk moved would be assumed by the administrators of those systems.

It was an expedient coming together of technical circumstance and extant competency that ensured system administrators, more often than not, became the first and best SAN administrators.

About the author: Atiek Arian is a senior consultant at GlassHouse Technologies (UK), with eight years experience in IT systems, storage, disaster recovery and high availability. He has experience in architecture, implementation and operational support within complex enterprise environments with a focus on technical and procedural best practice. Previously, Atiek was a senior SAN, storage and UNIX specialist at Centrica Information Systems. Before that he was a SAN engineer at Samsung Data Systems, focusing on disaster recovery and the design of highly available storage and systems environments running Oracle and SAP.

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