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Who's running the storage shop?

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Defining storage jobs

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The road to an effective storage management team will probably pass through the HR office. In most companies, once the specific skill sets required for storage personnel have been defined, those requirements have to be translated into job descriptions. Some points to keep in mind:
New jobs take time. Working with the human resources organization to redefine jobs can be time-consuming.
Be specific. While it's fine to use existing job descriptions for similar positions as templates, the descriptions for storage positions should relate to specific storage activities.
Consider interactions. In addition to defining the specific responsibilities of each new job, Mike Drapeau, president of The Drapeau Group, a storage consulting firm, suggests describing how those jobs relate to and integrate with the overall environment.
Plan for career development. Develop future positions that provide a career development path for current storage professionals.
Expect some resistance. Selling entirely new job descriptions to prospective storage group members may not be easy. An employee who previously had some part-time storage responsibilities may feel that the scope of his job has narrowed and his skills are going to be wasted as a result of the redefined job description.

Seeking storage pros
Most companies don't have to look far to find the appropriate people to assume storage management responsibilities. In many cases, the personnel assigned to the storage team were already on staff, had some storage responsibilities and were involved to some degree in the storage centralization project.

Although most companies segregated their networking disciplines from other IT areas some time ago, servers and storage often remain paired as an IT resource and tucked into the operations arm of the IT organization. As a result, operations--including systems administration--are typically the largest contributors of personnel for storage management groups.

Best Buy Canada's Chung followed a fairly typical route to his current role as an enterprise storage analyst. Chung was originally assigned to a Unix group where one of his duties was to manage storage--so it was a short stretch for him to take on storage as a full-time responsibility. "What has happened here is [storage management] became part of the Unix group, since the Unix systems are the primary servers that utilize the SAN."

There may be some preconceptions to overcome, however, when building a storage management team. Aberdeen's Hill points out that "storage was never viewed as glamorous, so people didn't want to be known as the backup person." But many IT professionals are convinced that concentrating on storage can be a good--and technically challenging--career move, as they see their companies sinking significant resources into storage networking.

The ideal storage group should include people with skills from other parts of the IT organization. If it's not possible to formally add these people to the team, communications links should be established with the appropriate IT departments to ensure future cooperation.

Consultant Mike Drapeau advocates adding DBAs to a storage management team. Says Drapeau: "DBAs can ensure that storage planning matches data planning," adding that DBAs in a storage group may also provide "a backdoor way to speak coherently and effectively to the lines of business."

Redefining jobs and responsibilities will require a fair amount of planning and research. (See "Defining storage jobs"). Along with new job definitions and new processes, don't be surprised to encounter some associated costs as well. "It's going to create a new person with a new title with a new expectation of salary and perks and all that," says Drapeau. The additional expenditures should be considered developmental costs that are part and parcel to establishing an effective storage operation. "It's not perceived as a cost-saving measure," says Drapeau. "It's perceived as a way to be more responsive."

Working with others
Routinely, storage groups need to work with other IT disciplines, including network, systems and database management groups. The storage team's responsibilities inevitably overlap with other groups, with the potential for turf battles and contention to develop. Two of the most widely related examples are configuring HBAs and allocating LUNs and disk volumes for databases. These activities cross disciplinary boundaries, blurring the jurisdictional lines between server and storage or database and storage groups. While some head-butting is inevitable, anticipating these conflicts and planning for them can minimize disruptions.

These issues can be addressed by incorporating the related disciplines in the storage group, but for most companies that's probably not a practical option. However, setting up a combination of formal and informal procedures is a practical and effective measure that can help defuse conflicts. Bruce Hall assembled a cross-discipline team of more than 40 staff members when his company was planning its storage network. As a result, the storage group now enjoys an effective level of cooperation with other IT factions, and can amicably negotiate specific responsibilities when a project crosses functional lines.

At Oakwood Healthcare, Brian Perlstein says good communications paid off, with storage personnel working closely with server admins and DBAs to help them understand the operation and benefits of the storage network. Oakwood also uses an online request form as part of its capacity allocation process, which helps ensure smooth relations with other application groups.

In some companies, the storage team and the groups that it frequently interacts with are parallel members of an organization within IT. Best Buy Canada's Chung says operating shoulder-to-shoulder in that arrangement encourages cooperation. "If a database is having performance issues, we manage to work together to try to determine the cause."

But among even the most informal environments, one area almost always gets the formal treatment: change requests. For requests that may require significant effort or have a measurable effect on storage operations, such as attaching a new server to the SAN, formal procedures and documentation requirements are frequently in place.

This was first published in May 2004

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