Data Centers

Is IT witnessing the death of the storage administrator?

As hyperconverged storage becomes common and arrays become simple to install, storage administrators face some serious job security issues.

Image: iStockphoto/TiSanti

Based on the most recent storage products, it seems that storage administrators are in the cross hairs of enterprise IT vendors. Hyperconverged infrastructure vendors continue to make much of the "No more LUNs" marketing phrase, and even array-based companies highlight the ease of configuration for new storage platforms.

The result may lead some to conclude that the role of the storage administrator is coming to an end. Is this an area of cost savings for infrastructure managers and therefore a cause for concern for storage administrators?

Push for simplicity

The traditional process for provisioning storage is involved. For outsiders, storage seems like a dark art. To achieve the required throughput for an application, a storage administrator pulls out a spreadsheet, performs some math, and determines the number of spindles needed to meet the IOP requirements. The storage administrator then lays out storage groups and RAID levels, and configures the storage array. Provisioning includes creating LUNs (logical unit numbers) and assigning them to servers.

This process doesn't scale. The more dynamic the environment, the more man hours dedicated to provisioning and managing storage arrays. Storage teams either grow to accommodate the demand, or became a bottleneck for workload provisioning. Modern storage solutions aim to simplify the process and remove the bottleneck.

Modern options

Simplicity is one of the driving forces behind the hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) movement. There are no concepts of LUNs, and the user interfaces give simple options for performance and reliability. In most solutions, customers select the level of redundancy needed down to the VM level. The number of copies of the VM replicated between nodes determines the redundancy level, and the type of storage drives performance. High-performance workloads are placed on flash storage while standard workloads reside on spinning disk. Performance is less of a concern as all-flash options become common in HCI solutions.

Hyperconverged isn't a one-size fits all solution, however. Hyperconverged solutions cater toward virtualized environments, but there is still a need to support bare metal workloads as major vendors have focused on simplifying the configuration of higher-end arrays.

I sat down with Pure Storage's vice president of architecture Vaughn Stewart and discussed the desire to simplify configuration. Stewart claims the average vSphere administrator is capable of configuring and managing a Pure Storage array.

Mark Geel, who is responsible for EMC's marketing for the Core Technology Division (CTD), said that the newly announced Unity all-flash-array (AFA) also aims at simplicity.

SEE: 5 major data center announcements from day one of EMC World 2016 (TechRepublic)

These newer arrays are AFA and performance is no longer a complex matrix of decisions. Storage providers have focused on making redundancy options simpler to understand as well. In most cases a storage array such as those sold by Pure is managed via vCenter.

The storage admin's role

With the advancements in storage technology, the role of the storage administrator rises higher up the stack. During InterOp, I spoke with DeepStorage LLC chief scientist, Howard Marks, about the role of the storage administrator moving forward.

Marks predicts the number of storage administrators will shrink, but the role will not disappear. According to Marks, there's still a requirement to understand the discipline of storage and data. Storage vendors focus on reducing the manual labor associated with provisioning storage. However, the need to understand and manage areas such as service catalogs, capacity planning, and performance management will persist. Integration is another area of focus for the storage administrator.

Enterprise customers will integrate several different storage solutions, from cloud-based object storage to traditional block storage. An in-depth knowledge of how data is stored and accessed by the consuming applications is required.

Like all of computer science, storage provisioning is being abstracted. The need to understand what's happening under the hood is still required. The storage administrator needs a set of skills that provides value closer to the application.

What do you think?

Is the role of the storage administrator dying or just evolving? Share your views in the comments section.

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About Keith Townsend

Keith Townsend is a technology management consultant with more than 15 years of related experience designing, implementing, and managing data center technologies. His areas of expertise include virtualization, networking, and storage solutions for Fo...

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