Salaries rise as storage grows

In our exclusive annual survey charting the salaries and benefits of storage pros, many of them managed to see pay increases even as closings and layoffs sent some looking for new jobs. As data capacities grow, so does the need for dedicated storage pros.

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Storage professionals in many industries managed to see pay increases last year even as company closings and layoffs sent some looking for new jobs. As data grows, so does the need for dedicated storage professionals, according to our annual Salary Survey.

By Ellen O'Brien and Rachel Kossman

The average annual salary for storage professionals jumped approximately 3.5% in 2009 and respondents expect it to grow another 3.8% in 2010, according to our annual Storage magazine Salary Survey. In a year of layoffs and losses, recessions and rebounds, our annual survey found that storage professionals across many vertical industries and geographic regions managed to secure pay increases.

The average annual salary reported this year by our 363 respondents was $85,869 vs. the $82,915 they said they earned in 2008. For 2010, these same respondents predict they'll earn an average annual salary of $89,065.

Many of those surveyed reported accepting new jobs in 2009 that didn't include a raise, and placing greater value on job security and benefits. Indeed, the average 2009 salary reported by this year's respondents was slightly lower than the $86,573 average salary reported by those who participated in our 2008 Salary Survey.

Storage professionals who responded to our survey reported longer days, stricter budgets and fewer staff as a result of the economic chill that has tied up businesses from Florida to Canada.

"The headcount freeze is on," said Jean Veronneau, director of storage at Manulife Financial Corp., a financial services company based in Toronto. "You don't demand things the way you used to."

At age 60, Veronneau is a storage enthusiast with 15 years of experience dedicated solely to storage technology. "I'm not going into anything else," he said. "One [reason] is that I'm very good at it, and two is that I enjoy it."

Veronneau is among the many former private consultants and contractors who jumped at a full-time job when it became available during shaky economic times a couple of years ago.

"I took a hit," he said. "I took a cut compared to some of my contracting [income] but there was a challenge. I was going to be an architect for a new EMC solution when I started here. We started out with a contract, which was great, and then they offered me a full-time job."

Why I love/hate my job

 

Storage professionals who participated in our annual Storage magazine salary survey weighed in on the best and worst aspects of their current jobs, from technology to tight budgets and free donuts.

Eight reasons to love my job

  1. Learning curve: "The variety of the day-to-day operations and the continual learning."
  2. Hands-off: "I create my own projects; there's no micromanagement."
  3. The challenge: "Achieving the near impossible."
  4. The perks: "Free donuts on Friday."
  5. Coworkers: "Working with good people who have passion and dedication to their jobs."
  6. Costume changes: "I get to wear lots of different hats."
  7. Home office: "Flexible work hours; being able to work from home."
  8. Pride: "Being the 'go-to' guy."

Eight reasons to hate my job

  1. Too demanding: "Too much pressure on one person -- me."
  2. Tight budgets: "Growing so rapidly -- budget cannot buy what we need."
  3. Typecast: "Not much advancement opportunity."
  4. The bottom line: "Poor benefits and mediocre pay."
  5. Spread too thin: "Too many areas under my responsibility to be an expert at any."
  6. Time crunch: "Lack of time to plan and complete projects -- never given time to properly plan and implement technologies."
  7. The big three: "Office politics, paperwork and bureaucracy."
  8. Finally, free bagels, but "have to pay for cream cheese."

 

Judging by our survey results, Veronneau made the right move. The financial services industry he works in reported average annual salaries of $93,798, which is a figure topped only by the $94,513 reported by respondents in the IT services industry. Ranked third was media and publishing, where annual salaries averaged $90,577. These three vertical industries were also atop the salary chart in the 2008 survey.

Veronneau noted that the cost of living in Toronto compares to some of the priciest U.S. cities. Still, our salary survey shows Canada ranking third to last in annual salaries vs. U.S. regions, with an average of $78,042. Only the Midwest and Southeast regions of the U.S., with average salaries of $77,336 and $76,102, respectively, fared worse.

The Mountain region had the highest annual salaries with an average of $120,300. Last year, the Pacific region recorded the highest average salaries at $96,141; this year, the region ranks fourth with $94,375.

Learning curves and certification clout

From Veronneau's viewpoint, storage is a dynamic, cutting-edge technology, and it can be a challenge to keep current. "What I've seen is that the storage skill sets really vary," he said. He's a fan of vendor-specific certifications.

"It's expensive to stay on the bleeding edge, but you have to stay up to date," Veronneau said. However, he admitted that he let his SAN certification with EMC Corp. lapse recently. "It had to be renewed, but I've been too busy to go out and get it," he said.

In an EMC shop, Veronneau said, every six or nine months customers get an announcement letter with a "90,000-foot view of what's happening. But you have to drill into that." He believes his EMC certifications over the years have helped get his resume noticed, and he looks for some certifications when making staffing recommendations.

Much has been made of the value -- or lack of value -- of certifications in the storage industry. A survey by Vero Beach, Fla.-based Foote Partners LLC, released in the second quarter of this year, showed the average salary increase for holders of a single certification was at 7.5% of base pay this year vs. a peak of 8.6% in 2001.

According to our 2009 Salary Survey, there was no significant benefit to having one or two certifications, but having three or four certifications did translate to higher salaries for our respondents. Those without any certifications averaged an annual salary of $85,277, slightly higher than respondents with one or two certifications. But storage pros with three certifications reported average salaries of $96,053. At four certifications, the average salaries peaked at $96,400, but then dipped to $82,858 for those with five or more.

In the Foote Partners survey, several storage-specific technology certifications did buck the trend and manage to rise in value in 2009, including the EMC Technology Architect (EMCTA) and the EMC Proven Professional Certification program.

Mike Horvath, 38, is one of three data storage administrators at Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati, and a relative storage newbie, with 15 years of IT experience but just two in storage.

In his opinion, the lack of documentation, the need for new application knowledge depending on the environment and the learn-as-you-go aspect of storage management mean certifications quickly lose value.

"What I found is that there are two kinds of people -- one that was book smart and one that knew the job," Horvath said. A single father with a three-year-old daughter, Horvath has carved out a long-term plan for his career that relies on excelling at storage.

"The next 15 years will be spent digging deep into storage," he said. "Finding out everything I can about allocation, storage management. I intend to go into consulting because I've done it before."

A resume that's chock full of dedicated storage experience does mean fatter paychecks for storage professionals, according to our survey. College graduates who spent more than five years specializing in storage did reap the rewards. The average salary for those graduates with three to five years dedicated storage experience was $88,717. That jumped to $95,440 for college graduates with six to 10 years of dedicated storage experience. At 10 years, salaries rose to $105,921.

Storage Salaries: The bottom line

Q: Which region pays the most to storage professionals?
A: That would be the Mountain region, according to our survey. At the other end of the regional salary spectrum is the Southeast region, which ranked last.

Q: In which region can storage pros expect the biggest year-end bonuses?
A: Optimists in the Pacific region predicted they would receive a healthy average bonus of $12,719. The New England region, despite being known for Yankee frugality, was a close second at $12,343. Northwest region respondents had the most modest expectations, anticipating an average $2,224 bonus.

Q: Which industry boasts the highest salaries for storage professionals?
A: IT services was most generous, with salaries averaging $94,513. Financial services placed a close second with $93,798.

Q: If you manage more capacity, do you make more money?
A: Once you move past 1 TB, yes. Our survey showed annual salaries of $73,646 for storage pros at shops managing between 1 TB and 9 TB. But the average jumps to $82,666 for those managing between 10 TB and 99 TB. Above 500 TB, the average spiked to $104,441.

Q: Does managing a bigger storage budget translate into a bigger salary?
A: Yes. Those managing budgets of $500,000 or less showed an average salary of $75,327, while respondents overseeing budgets of more than $10 million earned an average annual salary of $126,000.

Q: Do salaries grow as a company's storage expands?
A: Yes. The biggest jump was seen in shops where storage grew by 41% or more last year. Shops that didn't experience any storage growth in 2009 reported an average salary of $82,250; at companies where storage grew by 41% to 50%, the average salary was $91,588.

Q: Do professional certifications pay?
A: Not one, not two, but three certifications in storage can apparently contribute to higher salaries. Respondents without any certifications had an average salary of $85,277, slightly higher than respondents with one or two certifications. But storage pros with three certifications reported an average of $96,053. The sweet spot for certifications was four, with an average salary of $96,400, dipping to $82,858 for five or more certifications.

Q: Are all those years of education truly worth it?
A: Yes, diplomas can really translate into dollars. High school graduates in our survey earned an average of $80,480, while college graduates earned $86,807. Those who earned a Master's degree or a Ph.D. reported an average annual salary of $96,723.

Q: Does dedicated storage experience mean more money?
A: Specialize in storage for more than five years and it starts to pay off. College graduates with three to five years dedicated storage experience earned $88,717; six to 10 years yielded an average of $95,440. More than a decade on the front lines plus a college degree kicks the salary average up to $105,921.

 

The new value of benefits

Storage professional Troy Downing began job hunting in a tough economy, just as his employer of 13 years was being acquired. Within a month of searching, Downing landed a position at Rain and Hail L.L.C. in Des Moines, Iowa, where he has been a member of a two-person storage team for the last two years. Today, Downing earns a smaller base salary than he did at his longtime employer, but his top-notch benefits package makes up for the difference.

"Maybe my base pay doesn't look as good, but our [healthcare payments] are zero. Zero. There's no premium," Downing explained. "Knowing what I was paying in the past … that's worth $12,000."

Downing's new benefits plan means that he pays only a small fee for office co-pays, and there's no healthcare withdrawal from his paycheck. He also has a flex spending account of $1,200 to offset costs that aren't otherwise covered.

With the rising cost of healthcare at the center of national debates, many storage professionals said they're placing greater emphasis on their benefits than before.

However, satisfaction with overall benefits packages dipped in 2009 vs. 2008. In 2009, 64% of respondents rated their company benefits as good, very good or excellent vs. 73% last year. And in 2009, more of our respondents reported working at companies that reduced benefits. In 2008, 18% said their benefits packages were reduced vs. 30% in 2009, reflecting a widespread trend at companies looking to keep their doors open and their margins appealing to Wall Street.

"A lot of my friends in town took pay cuts -- a lot of mandatory pay cuts," Downing said. "Watching that, I feel fortunate I ended up where I ended up."

Expanding storage, bigger paycheck

For Downing, another draw in changing jobs was the opportunity to work on server and storage virtualization projects. "I'd like my two primary focuses to be storage and virtualization," he said. At Rain and Hail, Downing is also part of a dedicated, albeit small, storage team, which is a selling point for many of our respondents who said they believe dedicated storage teams are essential to a company understanding the overall value of storage.

In general, the likelihood of having a dedicated storage team increases with the size of the company, according to our survey. At companies with revenue of less than $50 million, only 20% of our respondents reported having a dedicated storage group in place. At companies with revenue between $501 million and $1 billion, that number rose to 34.7%. And a whopping 68% of companies with revenue ranging between $5.1 billion and $10 billion had dedicated storage teams, which suggests that larger companies may be putting more emphasis on and committing more resources to their storage systems.

Downing has seen storage capacity double to just under a petabyte in the last 18 months, growing at a rate of approximately 10% to 15% a year. Repeating a trend that appeared in our 2008 survey, the current survey showed storage salaries growing as installed storage capacity does.

Those who managed between 1 TB and 9 TB had an average salary of $73,646, while the average salary for those who managed between 10 TB and 99 TB spiked to $82,666. Above 500 TB, the average salary jumped to $104,441. Survey respondents who reported no storage capacity growth in 2009 received average salaries of $82,250. For those whose shops experienced capacity growth of 10% to 40%, there were incremental salary increases. Above 40% growth, however, there was a more significant rise: respondents at companies whose storage grew between 41% and 50% reported average salaries of $91,588 vs. $84,226 for those at firms with storage growth between 31% to 40%.

When it comes to salaries and company size, our 2009 survey revealed that only storage professionals at the very largest of companies -- those with more than $10 billion in revenue -- saw any dramatic increases. Those who worked at companies with revenue of $10 billion and beyond reported average salaries of $99,588 -- nearly $3,000 higher than last year's average for this group.

 

Click here to view a PDF of the 2009 Storage Salary Survey by the numbers.

 

Commutes, kids and job security

At a time when many retirement funds are dwindling, Eric Hess, a 35-year-old operations engineer at the College of American Pathologists in Northfield, Ill., said his 401(k) is a key factor in his job satisfaction.

The non-profit organization contributes 15% of each employee's total pay into a 401(k) every six months, regardless of whether the employee is also contributing. That 401(k) benefit, Hess said, "is probably the most valued out of the college." While Hess' healthcare premiums didn't rise last year, he said, they have doubled since he arrived at the college approximately seven years ago.

Hess is a member of the newly formed work-life balance committee at the college. "They want to know if any team members are dissatisfied," Hess said of the committee, which consists of eight people and meets periodically to field employee requests and address employee concerns.

Echoing a sentiment expressed by many of our respondents, Hess said storage technology keeps him engaged and committed. "From the time I have been here -- the last 7 years -- we've gone to 1 Gig switches to 8 Gig switches. That shows you the growth and the potential that has happened," he said.

Jeffrey Lawrence, a contractor and senior systems engineer at the Asymmetric Warfare Group at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland, recently accepted a position at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Married with five children ranging in age from one to 19, Lawrence is looking forward to the stability of a government job.

Lawrence took rising gas prices and a shorter commute into account. The annual salary at his new job will be lower than his current contract rate. However, Lawrence, 39, will be commuting on the train and the government provides a $250 monthly stipend for employees who use public transportation.

Heading into 2010, the key factor driving Lawrence is job security, he said. "As a civilian contractor, it's a very vulnerable time," he said. "But now that I'm going to the government side I feel a lot safer. That's a major factor for me."

BIO: Ellen O'Brien is the senior editor at Storage magazine and site editor for SearchStorage.com and SearchStorage.co.UK. Rachel Kossman is a student intern/editorial assistant at TechTarget.

This was first published in December 2009

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