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Checklist: Five steps to a solid storage management team

Learn how to create a successful storage management team with a minimum of hassle.

This article first appeared in "Storage" magazine in their October issue. For more articles of this type, please visit

What you will learn from this tip: How to create an effective storage management group with a minimum of hassle. Need a downloadable copy? Go here.

Almost every company I deal with is working on standardizing storage (and backup) management under a single umbrella. But for various reasons, most haven't gotten far. If your organization wants to move to a storage management group, but you're not sure how to get it there, consider this step-by-step approach.

Five steps to a solid storage management team
Step 1: Evolve and specialize
The time is ripe to build an organization of specialists. Your existing staff probably already has the skills to manage the current environment, if only they were allowed to focus on it. You probably already have a guy who knows all about EMC Corp.'s Symmetrix or a gal who works with Veritas Software Corp.'s NetBackup. Let them be the seed employees for your new storage management group
Step 2: Playing a part
The next step is defining the demarcation of the storage management group, and the roles each member will play. This will give you a better idea of how many people you'll need than any "terabytes per admin" metric. Here are some basic roles and responsibilities:

Group leader. The lead has to be able to work with other groups, both within and outside IT, to determine how to map your technical capabilities to a business strategy.

Storage engineer. In small environments, a single storage engineer can design, implement and debug all of the disk storage, but larger groups may opt to distribute these responsibilities.

Backup engineer. This position is responsible for making sure your backup system runs according to plan and that new storage is protected appropriately.

Business analyst. The business analyst is charged with harmonizing your technical capabilities with the demands of the greater organization.

Operators. Someone has to watch the big board and call for help when the indicators go red.

Step 3: What's your policy?
Define the team's responsibilities. The question of demarcation usually boils down to these three questions:
  • Do you configure volume managers and file systems on servers? If so, you'll need root/administrator access, and you can expect to be part of the planning and debugging process for servers.
  • Does the storage realm end before or after the host bus adapter? Once you get inside the server's case, you have to be prepared to take on much more work as system changes happen.
  • How about managing a Fibre Channel (FC) or Ethernet storage area network (SAN)? Cisco Systems Inc. SANs and iSCSI blur the once-clear line separating network and storage teams.
Step 4: Protect and serve
SLAs are the key to working with customers for a service organization. The trick is to be proactive: Decide on the levels of service that you intend to offer and then get buy-in from the end users. Here's what to do:
  • Translate your technical capabilities into service level definitions.
  • Think about things in terms that your users will understand -- talk about availability and performance, rather than RAID levels and FC.
  • Create "value meals" of typical service level choices. These are the tiers of service you will offer your customers. Avoid using loaded terms such as "Class A" or "Tier 3" that may make business users or applications seem less important than others. Instead, cite specifics of service levels with phrases such as "fully redundant" and "copied off site."
  • Share the financial implications of SLA choices with your users. Not everyone wants a chargeback scheme, but most people will understand that shipping every byte written to a remote data center can be an expensive proposition. So be prepared to discuss the costs associate with the different options.
Step 5: Turn process into procedure
If you want to keep your customers happy, you have to take your ad hoc processes and turn them into concrete standard operating procedure (SOP) documents. Then you have to ensure that the procedures are followed every time.

First, look at the tasks that you defined in step 2. Anything that's standardized and frequently repeated should have an SOP. Come to a consensus about how those tasks should be performed and then write it down. That's how a process is transformed into a procedure.

Read an expanded version of this tip in Storage magazine.

For more information:

Tip: How to raise storage visibility

Tip: Top 10 tips on storage management

Tip: Set strategic storage management policies

About the author: Stephen Foskett is a senior consultant at GlassHouse Technologies in Framingham, Mass., specializing in storage management strategies and integration. He has also done extensive work in storage area network design and integration and Unix systems management.

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