How many storage admins do you need?


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Storage groups require four main disciplines, but within each discipline there's also a need for a range of people, from architect to operator. Staffing levels should reflect this division of labor and the size and complexity of the environment. That's why simplistic TB/admin calculations aren't helpful.

Many of today's shops look awfully similar to my first storage-focused job, where SCSI-based Clariions ruled. Still, some businesses have understood the lessons of the past and are well on their way to running IT as an internal service provider. Within IT, though, even these organizations are just building independent storage management groups.

Here are some lessons I've learned by helping and watching a number of businesses form storage management teams:

  • Form a real, dedicated group--don't try to make virtual teams.
  • Define and publicize the boundaries, roles and responsibilities of the storage team.
  • Storage has to include backup, archiving and disaster recovery.
  • Invest in training--this is a new world; new skills are required.
  • An internal utility model can work--even without chargebacks.
  • Don't forget about customer service.
If our first rule is to form a group, the most basic questions are: How many people do I need? What skills should they have?

Let's take the second question first. There are four basic job types that you'll need to cover:

Engineering. These are typically the first type of folks recruited into the storage management group. Titles include storage architect, storage engineer and storage specialist. These people need technology-specific skills (Brocade, EMC, Network Appliance, Veritas) for the most part. Don't forget operating system skills too; they'll be expected to work closely with systems administrators on storage configuration. This area of focus is sometimes called storage or backup administration or engineering, and is a parallel to the systems administrators who run Windows and Unix systems. These people focus on making things work, from design and product selection to implementation, but not much beyond that.

Operations. Most IT organizations already have an operations or production support group, and most storage management groups enlist their help in managing storage. But operations is a critical part of the picture. They keep things running by operating the help desk and performing day-to-day tasks and maintenance. It's important to develop good standard operating procedure documentation for this group--they'll expect you to.

Business analysis. This is the one area often overlooked. Business analysts are critical to developing SLAs, cost accounting and generally making sure that your customers are happy. All customer interaction should come through these folks, and it's their job to translate a customer's desires into the technical specifics needed by the storage engineers.

Management. Management brings it all together. Storage managers need to manage personnel, work within IT and the rest of the business, develop budgets and keep projects on course. I've yet to see a storage management group without a manager, but their role is worth pointing out. And sometimes in particularly large or diverse organizations, these tasks will demand additional assistant managers.

This was first published in April 2004

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