The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) will announce Thursday the general availability of its FC-SAN Specialist Level 3 exam, an indication that the enterprise storage industry has begun to reach maturity.
Previously, both those trying to find work implementing storage area networks (SAN) and industry veterans looking to hire more knowledgeable SAN implementation and design staff had to rely on real-world experience as the main guide for judging qualifications.
Now, vendor-neutral certification such as SNIA's FC-SAN Specialist exam has the potential to even out the playing field.
"It's kind of like getting your badge, or your diploma, for what you've already been doing," said Enis Konuk, director of global storage consulting services for Sun Microsystems Inc. Sun and a host of other storage vendors participated in the 11-month testing and development phase to produce SNIA's FC-SAN Specialist exam.
"Standards for measuring the storage networking expertise of IT professionals are a key factor in the growth of our industry," said Sheila Childs, chair of SNIA's board of directors. "This is what our enterprise customers worldwide are asking for."
The exam was developed on SNIA's behalf by Infinity I/O, a Half Moon Bay, Calif.-based storage training firm. Subject matter experts at several SNIA member companies, such as Sun, EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Fujitsu Softek Technology Corp., McData Corp., Veritas Software, Legato Systems Inc. and Solution Technology Inc. contributed their expertise by writing and reviewing test questions. Members of SNIA's technical committee also took part in the review to ensure that final test questions would do the job.
Some vendors see this exam as a way to supplement their existing vendor-based training programs by allowing them to offload the task of training people on SAN fundamentals and focus more on product-specific training. They also see this type of certification as a great marketing tool for promoting their staff's level of storage expertise to potential customers.
Konuk added that Sun has plans to use this type of exam to help qualify its own staff, channel partners and resellers who plan to offer Sun storage products.
According to Infinity I/O, the best candidates for FC-SAN Specialist certification should be able to independently design and configure a Fibre Channel-based SAN. The person taking the exam should also be able to understand all the issues related to SAN performance and interoperability. The exam has been designed for system architects, product designers, support specialists and test engineers. It also caters to FC-SAN consultants, engineers, instructors and FC-SAN sales/system engineers.
"The ideal candidate would be somebody who has preferably two to three years' experience implementing, maintaining and designing SANs," said Deborah Johnson, Infinity I/O's president and CEO.
According to Johnson, the FC-SAN Specialist exam is the third in a three-level certification series developed jointly by SNIA and Infinity I/O. The first two levels, FC-SAN Professional (Level 1) and FC-SAN Practitioner (Level 2) target different audience needs.
"Level 2 covers a lot more of the theory types of things and obvious Fibre Channel technology, whereas the SAN Specialist exam starts looking into a customer problem or a specific situation, and what's going to get them the best solution for their application," she said.
The SAN Specialist exam looks at a whole life cycle of implementing SANs. "It encompasses a breadth of knowledge as opposed to just one aspect," she said.
Henry Hunt, a Round Rock, Texas-based development engineer and senior analyst for Dell Computer Corp.'s enterprise systems group, said that he at first questioned the validity of the exam.
"I questioned the effectiveness of a multiple-choice test in actually delivering comprehensive, in-depth results," he said. "But the test was well prepared and thorough. I was happy to see that FC trace analysis was tested."
Seattle-based technical consultant Brandon Worrell cautioned that preparation is key.
"The exam was more detailed than I expected," said Worrell, who works for Denver-based solutions provider, Solutions-II. "It included more troubleshooting and low-level packet information than I was prepared for. I'd suggest that people preparing for the exam not only understand SAN architecture and design, but also understand how to troubleshoot low-level encoding/decoding and addressing issues within a frame."
To assist those in planning for the exam, Infinity I/O will be offering three training courses: one on technical SAN design; an advanced SAN course for troubleshooting, which includes a lab component; and an advanced Fibre Channel SAN theory course. A free, downloadable guide to the exam will also be available from Infinity I/O's Web site over the next few weeks, Johnson said. She also suggests looking into Level 2 courses and exams first, if you need more fundamental SAN background.
Over time, other training firms and book publishers are likely to offer other trainings and self-study guides to aid in taking the FC-SAN Specialist exam, Johnson said.
The exam is available from Prometric test centers worldwide for $365.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
See Jay Kramer's recent SearchStorage.com webcast on SAN Specialist (Level 2) certification.