The Search for Storage Expertise

Jun 2, 2003

Drew Robb

Storage Area Networks (SANs) offer companies an excellent method for cutting storage costs while providing greater availability -- provided you have an abundant supply of people possessing the knowledge and skills to manage them. And that's the problem. The explosive growth in SAN deployment has led to a dearth of personnel who are proficient at running them.

"There is a definite lack of storage expertise across the IT industry," says Nancy Marrone, senior analyst for the Enterprise Storage Group Inc., based in Milford, Mass. "Configuring storage arrays is one thing; configuring, maintaining and managing SANs adds a level of complexity that your common system admin does not have the knowledge or time to handle."

To address this skills shortfall, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) in late April announced a three-level storage training program at Storage Networking World in Phoenix, Ariz. The program is targeted at the SAN skills shortage and aims to certify administrators on Fibre-Channel (FC) SANs.

The Need for Basics

While most storage manufacturers offer training on how to access the features of their particular products, such a piecemeal education doesn't meet the needs of enterprises which are seeking to deal with storage on an enterprise basis.

"Most organizations used to make separate buying decisions for each computing platform," says David Liff, regional vice president of brand management for Storage for Computer Associates Inc. in Islandia, N.Y. "This has changed over the last year to where they are assigning one person to oversee centralized storage purchasing."

But the people making those purchasing decisions, as well as the administrators and users, need to achieve an overall view of storage technology issues in order to make the correct decisions. This requires a clear understanding of the basic underlying principles and technologies, in addition to the nuts and bolts of how to architect, assemble and operate storage for optimum business value.

"In the past, people would just train on a particular box or storage product and leave it at that," says Deborah Johnson, president and CEO of Infinity I/O, a storage training company located in Half Moon Bay, Calif., that is partnering with the SNIA on FC-SAN training. "Now more and more enterprises are coming to recognize that they need to view storage as part of the big picture, including how it relates to business practices. Such training is essential before they get into the individual product training on storage products and technologies."

Infinity I/O provides a series of vendor-neutral storage training courses, both live and online. The online course, which takes eight hours and costs $500. The others take two to three days at costs from $1,300 to $2,895.

The e-Learning course covers the fundamentals of Fibre Channel SANs giving an overview of the industry, and the various components, technologies and topologies used. The live courses cover SAN technologies in more depth including the networking protocols involved. Infinity I/O also offers a hands-on lab where participants can gain experience planning, building and configuring SANs.

"Many storage personnel now have enough familiarity with SAN and NAS, but they are not satisfied with their ability to manage these technologies or to deal with interoperability challenges," Johnson explains.

Infinity I/O was selected by the SNIA to run its testing and certification program. SNIA members -- including Sun Microsystems, EMC, Hewlett-Packard and IBM -- provided input on the test questions and SNIA's technical committee reviewed the final tests. The certification consists of three levels:

Level 1 - Professional
This level is designed for those who have limited technical background and covers the basic principles and terminology of Fibre Channel SANs. This certification is appropriate for those who need to understand and interact with, but not administer or design, SANs. This includes corporate and IT executives, sales staff, call center personnel, the marketing department and public relations people.

Level 2 - Practitioner
This level is for those who have a more hands-on relationship to the SAN. It tests the person's understanding of the features, functions and technology of FC-SANs. Level 2 SAN certification would be most appropriate for support staff, field service engineers and consultants.

Level 3 - Specialist
This level is for systems architects, FC-SAN administrators, test engineers and others who need to get down into the nuts and bolts of storage technology. The examination covers designing, building and configuring a complex FC-SAN, including both the architecture and devices involved.

While the first modules of the SNIA Storage Networking Certification Program (SNCP) test candidates' knowledge of Fibre Channel SANs, future modules will include Network Attached Storage (NAS) and IP Storage in addition to backup and restore and capacity planning.

Vendor-Specific Training

Once people complete SNIA certification, they are better prepared to delve into the offerings provided by a specific storage vendor. These include:

Adaptec Certified Storage Professional -- Adaptec, Inc. (Milpitas, Calif.) has courses and certification on RAID and Adaptec products. Topics include Networks and Servers, I/O Subsystems, Storage Management Software, RAID Performance Tuning and Disaster Recovery. The 2-3 day courses cost $1,495 and there are self-study courses for $139.

EMC Proven Professional Certification Program -- EMC's program consists of an initial test on storage basics and then a choice of three tracks -- Operator, Builder and Architect. The builder track is only available to EMC employees or partners.

Sun Microsystems offers three different networked storage certificate programs for data management, architecture and backup and restore. Exams run $150 and courses are $1,500 to $4,000.

Brocade, McData and others offer similar training and certification programs. While these specialized certifications will help with operating current equipment, don't just do them to skimp on the basics.

"The classes offered by SNIA are perhaps the best available at the moment as they are based on learning standards and interoperability issues," says Marrone.


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