The storage administrator is dead; long live the storage admin

The state of the storage administrator role is evolving – but how close it is to the brink of extinction or a dramatic career reinvention is up for debate.

The reasons for the change are known. They include the rise of hybrid cloud data centers through the adoption of virtualization, as well as the continued adoption of newer technologies such as containers. Together they bring the role of the storage administrator to a professional critical point.

Historically, the Storage Administrator position involved a mix of gray collar tasks such as installing and maintaining storage hardware in data centers while providing storage services for other IT teams through lines controllers or other software from specialist vendors.

Today, some storage administrators feel their jobs are being jeopardized by vendor managed services, but CIOs hiring for this role are seeing the job reformatted into new responsibilities such as data management, placement of data and infrastructure cost management.

The most important rule for any storage administrator to follow—one that all industry experts and IT managers interviewed for this article agree with—is to not limit the role to title alone.

The first rule of being a storage administrator today is not to talk about being a storage administrator.

David RaffoSenior Analyst, Evaluators Group

“The first rule of being a storage administrator today is not to talk about being a storage administrator,” said Dave Raffo, senior analyst at Evaluator Group. “You don’t want to run around telling people you’re [just] a storage guy.”

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At the recent HPE Discover 2022 conference in Las Vegas, Hewlett Packard Enterprise showcased its GreenLake Managed Services to customers in attendance as the future to simplify employee overhead and eliminate internal technology complications.

“Users have nearly unlimited storage, with access to grow without worrying about acquiring or updating hardware,” said Maciej Glowacki, IT systems manager attending the conference.

GreenLake, according to HPE, eliminates most on-premises infrastructure operations by outsourcing these tasks to the vendor, a “one-throat” approach HPE developed to compete with similar packages from hardware companies such as Dell Technologies and NetApp. as well as hyperscalers like AWS and Microsoft Azure.

Some storage professionals in attendance, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation and job security, viewed aspects of GreenLake as a professional threat. Managed services that automatically provision storage, update infrastructure hardware, and allow anyone with GUI access to manage storage eliminate most traditional storage administrator tasks.

But industry watchers like Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting, disagreed with the assumption that offerings such as GreenLake would cause the role of the storage administrator to disappear. Instead, the work should evolve over time. GreenLake cannot, for example, determine what makes some data more valuable than other data or determine the best maneuvers to cut costs, he said.

“What can become a job killer for storage administrators is data management,” Staimer said. “What is valuable, in reality, is not the storage, but the data in it.”

Others see managed services like GreenLake as a way to augment rather than replace the role of the storage administrator.

“Nearly 75% of [Infinidat’s] customers are using alternative consumption models to Capex,” said Eric Herzog, marketing director of Infinidat, a data storage company based in Herzliya, Israel. “These are big companies, and they’re not getting rid of their storage administrators simply because they are using storage as a service.”

Infinidat has added automation to its products, giving administrators time to focus on other storage challenges, Herzog said. Other competing Infinidat vendors similarly leaning into automation include NetApp and Pure Storage.

Graphical listing skills needed for storage administration tasks

Hiring (again)

A search for storage administrator positions on popular job posting websites such as Indeed consistently yields many results, showing continued demand for the position. Glassdoor’s salary estimates and quotes range from around $60,000 for entry-level positions to over $150,000 for experienced managers.

Garmin International in Olathe, Kansas, a manufacturer and developer of GPS hardware and software, recently sought a Storage Administrator with a decade of professional experience and familiarity with S3 object storage as well as Dell Technologies hardware. and NetApp. Barclays, a UK bank, has advertised a storage administrator position for its US R&D campus in Whippany, NJ, requiring almost entirely onsite experience with IBM Tivoli Storage Manager, Veritas NetBackup and vault-like EMC Centera hardware.

A similar role with a slightly different title, IT systems administrator, is advertised for the storage IT infrastructure team at Mount Sinai Health System, a network of hospitals and medical practices in New York City.

The role advertises hybrid cloud experience, specifically requesting experience with Microsoft Azure, as well as other storage vendors such as NetApp, Pure, and IBM. But the position also requires other deep data knowledge, such as helping to develop the technology roadmap, integrating new tools into the technology stack, and communicating across departments on data needs. , said Kristin Myers, executive vice president and CIO of Mount Sinai Health System. .

Kristin Myers, CIO and Executive Vice President, Mount Sinai Health SystemChristine Myers

“A valuable storage administrator is one who understands the critical role of data within an organization,” Myers said. “They take the time to understand the end-to-end data flow and business requirements. They understand who needs to interact with data, integrations and interfaces; what type of data needs to be stored; how often it should be accessible and how long it should be retained.These skills are critical whether the solution resides in the cloud or on-premises.

Myers sees hybrid cloud adoption as the way forward in the medical industry, which must juggle demanding aspects of data management such as regulatory compliance, accessible data center locations, and user collaboration involving files reaching several gigabytes.

Looking ahead, Myers sees storage using more cloud services to create a highly available computing infrastructure for Mount Sinai patients and employees. These services will require the storage administrator to develop experience in using infrastructure as code, a DevOps practice; supply data; and monitor cloud usage costs.

“Infrastructure as code and the fusion of backup, disaster recovery and storage are the direction [for the position]”, she said. “The future state of storage in the cloud space falls under the full-stack DevOps engineer role – where engineers have deep knowledge of the full end-to-end technology stack.”

The data center of tomorrow

Myers’ expectations for Mount Sinai’s incoming IT administrator echo the perspective shared by industry analysts.

One benefit of hybrid cloud and the move to managed services is that developer teams and others in the business are empowered to manage their own storage demands, said Chris Evans, founder of Architecting IT, a design company. ‘to analyse.

“You can get out of the supply path, which is great because you’re not the bottleneck,” Evans said. “But you must be the keeper of [storage resources] and maintenance time.

Freed from giving a yes or no to every developer storage request, storage administrators can use this time to focus on collaborating with other teams such as backup and security. These roles will likely merge or become much more collaborative with storage tasks as cyberattacks and ransomware rise, he said.

“Your last line of defense is your storage system,” Evans said.

Moving from manually configuring hardware in the data center to more remote capabilities has led other divisions of a corporate IT team to better understand their own storage usage and needs, said Ashish Nadkarni , infrastructure analyst at IDC. Administrators can use this heightened awareness to more easily flag pressure points and potential problems in the infrastructure while offloading certain tasks to their colleagues.

“You went from being a command-line genius to managing everything through a user interface,” Nadkarni said.

Staying flexible with other parts of the tech stack and learning which new storage tools are valuable to enterprise infrastructure while saving money will remain important cross-departmental skills for anyone who still calls themselves an administrator. of storage.

“There may still be a lot of storage systems to manage, but you can’t afford to be siloed,” Nadkarni said. “People who say to themselves [strictly] a storage administrator, good luck to them.”

Tim McCarthy is a journalist living on the North Shore of Massachusetts. It covers cloud and data storage news.

Adam Armstrong is a TechTarget news writer covering storage hardware, flash, and other memory technologies.

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