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Storage admin roles and responsibilities follow convergence and cloud

With their jobs under constant assault, what must storage administrators do to stay relevant as data center technologies and the data storage world converge and change?

Every day, the world of the storage admin changes. One day, storage experts are kings of the data center, creating...

LUNs, deploying their own storage networks and planning an organization's ongoing capacity and performance needs. The next, their jobs are under assault, and storage admin roles and responsibilities are morphing as newer services augment and supplant these carefully crafted environments.

What technologies are we talking about? Converged infrastructure, hyper-converged infrastructure and cloud storage are the primary market disruptors. With this in mind, what must a storage admin do to stay relevant in the emerging age of the data center?

Embrace the change

First, understand that storage admin roles and responsibilities are changing, no matter the protestations. There are good business reasons that organizations seek to adopt newer and different technologies. This doesn't mean that the traditional storage environment goes away, but it may be joined by newer approaches that help it provide value to the organization.

As a storage admin, you'll have to become intimately familiar with newer technologies, how they work, why they're important and how they affect the business side of the storage equation. Only armed with adequate knowledge and understanding will you be able to provide your organization with storage advice.

Discover the differentiators

As a part of your learning process, find out how each type of storage architecture is different from the others and the use cases that drive each. The unique traits of the different architectures will help you identify the best use cases to apply each of them to.

For example, traditional storage is a good option when you need massive amounts of raw storage to apply to an application, but you may find that hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) provides the right mix of compute and storage. Storage in a converged infrastructure environment is best when you still want dedicated storage but want the ease of integration and management that comes with converged systems.

Hyper-converged adoption

Let's look at the four primary storage options affecting storage admin roles and responsibilities:

  • Stand-alone and dedicated storage is the traditional approach. It may be a dedicated storage array or software that installs on your hardware. When you buy this way, you must build out the storage network that enables communication with the host, ensuring compatibility. You also need to test to make sure all of the pieces, including the hosts, communication network and storage layer, work together.
  • Converged infrastructure takes the guesswork out of the storage equation. You buy a complete package that includes preconfigured and pretested hardware. Everything works together as it should.
  • HCI typically combines storage and servers into one device and eliminates the dedicated storage fabric in favor of an Ethernet network that binds everything together. In such environments, the hypervisor or storage management module running on each combined server/storage host manages the local storage.
  • Cloud storage is, well, in the cloud. This could be something like Amazon S3. Or it could be a software instantiation of your favorite vendor's storage software running at a public cloud provider and enabling you to create a common storage platform that spans your on-premises data center and the public cloud.

Of course, inside each of these areas lies storage media. That means you must keep current on advances in storage technology and fully understand when to use a spinning disk, flash and newer technologies as they become available. And you'll want to know when to create a system that uses all available storage media types in a hybrid configuration.

Choose the right storage at the right time

Storage admin roles and responsibilities will continue to expand and may become less technical as a more strategic architectural approach is required.

Storage administrators have always needed to understand how to manage the various kinds of storage in their environment. They've had to manage LUNs and data stores, create iSCSI targets, deal with Fibre Channel zones and a bunch more.

Today, though, storage admin roles and responsibilities include helping the organization choose the right storage at the right time. More often than not, that may mean creating a hybrid storage environment that includes some traditional storage, some HCI and some cloud-based storage. The modern storage pro must be able to recommend the right mix of storage platforms and then deftly weave them together to create a storage fabric that spans all of the appropriate services.

In many ways, storage admin roles and responsibilities will continue to expand and may become less technical as a more strategic architectural approach is required. Storage pros also must become masters at differentiating hardware- and software-based storage solutions and making decisions as to whether to buy preconfigured storage appliances or build their own using purpose-designed storage software.

What's next

Storage today is about far more than LUNs and storage volumes. While traditional storage is still important, storage pros must remember that change is here, and the storage landscape has forever shifted. They must learn how each of today's storage options fits into an overall storage strategy, how different types of media impact workloads in different ways and how to craft that emerging strategy, implement it and make sure it stays healthy.

This was last published in September 2018

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