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Virtualizing servers, storage and even networks will change the face of IT and significantly impact the roles of storage professionals.

By Rich Friedman

Virtualization is dramatically changing how servers, storage and networks are configured and managed. But virtualization technologies aren't just changing storage environments; they're rapidly changing the nature and scope of storage jobs. Virtualization creates more interdependencies across different technology domains, which can instigate political turf wars over who should architect, divvy up and manage storage resources. Should it be the storage, network, server or VMware administrator?

"With server virtualization, storage administrators are, in some ways, ceding control of large blocks of storage to be allocated and managed by those responsible for VMware," said James Damoulakis, chief technology officer at GlassHouse Technologies Inc., Framingham, Mass.

FCoE could tip balance

Traditionally, Fibre Channel (FC)-based storage-area networks (SANs) have been, by and large, under the autonomous control of storage administrators. But Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) could disrupt that arrangement. As FCoE begins to take hold over the next two years to four years, even more questions about roles and responsibilities will arise. It's possible that the storage staff could be squeezed out, with network administrators finally taking control of the storage network.

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"I'm betting that it will happen over time, but it will probably be a long time," GlassHouse's Damoulakis said. "With the continued use of Fibre Channel, even over Ethernet, the specialized knowledge relating to zoning and LUN [logical unit number] masking will probably be left either to the storage admin or to a liaison role that straddles both storage and networking."

Today, the storage administrator dictates the type of network supporting the storage environment, said Bob Laliberte, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. However, "it's easy to imagine that changing," he added. "If FCoE takes off, will the deployment of Ethernet switches be controlled by storage or networking companies?" And who controls the budget -- the storage team or the networking group? The most likely scenario, he said, will be the elimination of siloed IT groups replaced by hybrid IT groups, on either a project or permanent basis, staffed by members with expertise in networking, storage, servers and virtualization.

Breaking down IT silos

Stephen Foskett, director of the data practice group at Mountain View, Calif.-based Contoural Inc., advises companies to do the following:

  • Recombine stovepipe IT infrastructure organizations (server, storage and network) into a single management organization with specialists in these areas and others, such as virtualization and cloud computing.
  • Spend the time and money to cross-train everyone so they can reapply their experience and skills in this new world. Storage folks, for example, must know a good bit about server virtualization or their skills will have much less value.
  • Bring the mainframe, security and records management folks to the party. They all have essential insights, and failing to give them a seat at the table would be a critical loss.

This was first published in April 2009

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