Storage virtualization: The skills you need

Storage staffers can make the leap to managing virtual environments, but not without targeted training.

Just as it has for the server infrastructure, virtualization promises wondrous things for storage. For instance, viewing storage as a pool makes managing, backing up, archiving and migrating data far less complex than when storage is aligned with physical devices. You do have to know where you want your storage virtualization to reside, however. You can use a host-based system from Brocade Communications Systems or Symantec, for example, as part of the fabric with an appliance from EMC or IBM, or in the array, as such vendors as HP and 3Par offer.

Just as it has for the server infrastructure, virtualization promises wondrous things for storage. For instance, viewing storage as a pool makes managing, backing up, archiving and migrating data far less complex than when storage is aligned with physical devices. You do have to know where you want your storage virtualization to reside, however. You ...

As companies are diving deeper into virtualized storage projects, IT managers are getting a better understanding of the staff skills they need to make those projects succeed. The exact talents required depend on the type of storage implementation, but most employers say they're in the market for two kinds of IT worker: technicians with vendor-specific SAN or NAS knowledge, and systems administrators and IT architects who understand the complexities and interdependencies among applications, operating systems and I/O, all of which affect storage requirements.


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But the different approaches to storage virtualization demand different skills. For example, IT organizations that have created virtual server farms have typically relied on storage professionals who are knowledgeable about the types of platform being used and how best to allocate storage for those configurations, says Vincent Franceschini, chairman of the Storage Networking Industry Association.

4-Step Skills Analysis

Step 1: Clearly understand what you're trying to achieve with storage virtualization. Is this project part of a broader virtualization deployment strategy? Or is it designed for a specific use, such as tiered storage, disaster recovery or basic resource management? Make sure you fully understand what you want to achieve (or overcome) by deploying storage virtualization.

Step 2: Assess your current skills and identify gaps. Look across your IT staff for relevant and related skills. Is your storage specialist virtualization-savvy? Do you have IT workers with years of relevant mainframe or system virtualization experience? Look at your virtualization project to see whether any specific platform integration will be required (for example, hypervisors, clustering or data sharing).

Step 3: Evaluate independent training and certification. Before conducting vendor analysis, make sure you've addressed potential skills gaps in order to make an assessment of different approaches to virtualization and how they might fit into your organization's existing infrastructure.

Step 4: Consider vendor-specific training. Storage virtualization approaches vary from vendor to vendor, so if you have selected a new vendor or are expanding work with an existing vendor, you will likely need some custom training to ensure that you're taking advantage of all the features the vendor provides.

Source: Storage Networking Industry Association, San Francisco

That's one reason why IT leaders and industry observers say systems administrators and IT architects have skills that can help organizations manage storage virtualization efforts. Workers with such backgrounds are typically adept at configuration management and understand how storage, or "block," virtualization interrelates with disciplines such as disaster recovery planning and server clustering, says Irwin Teodoro, director of engineering at Laurus Technologies Inc., a systems integrator in Itasca, Ill.

What's needed is targeted instruction in how virtualization works.

For example, IT professionals who want to get involved with storage virtualization "need to know how the operating systems treat disk or what the disk limitations are to be successful in this environment," Teodoro says. Plus, systems administrators "are familiar with some form of data storage layout, and what you find is that 80% to 90% of storage administrators have backgrounds in systems administration," he adds.

The importance of those technical and process interrelationships in storage virtualization efforts also helps explain why there's strong demand for IT professionals who have ITIL process-transformation experience, says Brian Brouillett, vice president of data center services at Hewlett-Packard.

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