Long Live the Storage Admin

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

Now 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 with talk about how changes in the IT landscape are impacting their roles, and discuss the new skills they are developing in order to keep pace.

The role of a storage administrator was first introduced over 25 years ago. It started when IT organizations began to separate their storage acquisitions from their compute and network infrastructure. The many benefits of separating these decision included the ability to choose best of breed storage with more performance and better TCO. They could also consolidate and share storage across heterogeneous server environments, leading to improved utilization and simplified management. And since many of the apps were mission critical, they were able to implement a common data protection and business continuity strategy by taking advantage of advanced replication and recovery services.

As 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 in the org was so important was because “you can reboot the server, and you can resend the packet, but you can’t lose the data”. And 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 still 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 app owners. As a result, many storage admins see their value in the organization moving away 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.

As service brokers, the role includes helping the business define their requirements, and align 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.

We 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 100’s of 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 role as an infrastructure administrator is evolving as technologies such as virtualization, converged infrastructure, and hybrid cloud adoption has increased. 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. And 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. And 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. And more and more 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!

Scott Delandy @scottdelandy

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