The Storage Admin is dead, long live The Storage Admin!

storage-admin-kingNow before you send flowers and a note of condolence to your IT department, please be assured this is not a literal declaration. The above snowclone is based on a traditional proclamation made following the accession of a new monarch immediately after the passing of the old. It’s a fitting proclamation, since many of the storage admins we meet talk about how the changing IT landscape is impacting their roles and leading them to develop new skills to keep pace.

The role of a storage administrator was introduced over 25 years ago when IT organizations began to separate their storage infrastructure from their compute and network infrastructure. There were many benefits of separating these decisions. IT could choose best of breed storage with more performance and better TCO. They could consolidate and share storage across heterogeneous server environments, leading to improved utilization and simplified management. Finally, to protect the variety of mission critical apps,  the storage administrator could implement a common data protection and business continuity strategy by taking advantage of common storage-level advanced replication and recovery services.

storage-admin-1As storage infrastructures became more strategic to the business, IT organizations invested in resources with specialized skills and deep technical expertise, aka the storage admin. As a wise storage admin once told me, the reason why this role was so important is that “you can reboot the server, and you can resend the packet, but you can’t lose the data”. While new technologies such as virtualization, converged infrastructure, and management orchestration and automation have impacted how IT infrastructure is deployed and managed, the need to effectively store, secure, protect and manage the data remains.

What’s great about these new technologies and user consumption models is they allow storage admins to spend less time dealing with manual administration, and more time working with the business and application owners. As a result, many storage admins see their value in the organization evolving from “technology assemblers” to “services brokers”.  The new role also creates a key opportunity for the storage admin to lead an IT organization’s transformation into an internal service provider.

storage-admin-king-2The service broker  role includes helping the lines of business define their requirements, and then aligning them to the right technology and infrastructure. For example, if you ask an app owner what type of storage they need, they will often ask for “good”. But “good” can mean very different things to different people. It could mean “ultra-high performance and availability” to one user, and “simple and inexpensive” to another. Helping define the infrastructure services required to deliver “good” for a particular app is where more and more storage admins are spending their time and efforts.
storage-admin-3We recently spoke to a group of storage administrators and infrastructure managers at EMC World to get their first hand experiences and how they are responding to this change in their roles. The panel included many progressive thought leaders involved in their organization’s IT transformation. Their skill sets ranged from the classic storage, backup, and server admins, to IT managers responsible for large organizations with almost 100 team members. It was a great discussion with articulate, passionate IT pro’s who were able to speak from personal experiences on how their roles within IT are changing.

The replay of the panel discussion can be found here.

In this discussion, we learned that their roles as infrastructure administrators are evolving with the increased adoption of technologies such as virtualization, converged infrastructure, and hybrid cloud. We also heard that new roles and skills sets are required going forward to enable IT to support the needs of the business and its users. Given how important these new roles to be in the future, we also got practical advice on how IT managers can prepare themselves to be successful, and why it’s important to be open and embrace these changes. A key takeaway from the discussion is that it’s the ability to evolve and change that provides the most opportunity, for not just the storage admin, but for any role within IT. According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change. IT leaders are recognizing the opportunities provided by the evolution of their roles. The leaders are embracing the change and placing themselves in the middle of their organizations to not only lead their IT organizations today, but for the next 25 years.

Long Live the Storage Admin!

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