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Pestilential but Persistent!

There is no doubt that the role of the Storage Admin has changed; technology has moved on and the business has changed but the role still exists in one form or another.

You just have to look at the number of vendors out there jockeying for position; the existing big boys, the new kids of the block, the objectionable ones and the ones you simply want to file. There’s more choice, more decisions and more chance to make mistakes than ever before.

The day-to-day role of the Storage Admin; zoning, allocating LUNs, swearing at arcane settings, updating Excel spreadsheets and convincing people that it is all ‘Dark Magic’; that’s still there but much of it has got easier. I expect any modern storage device to be easily manageable on a day-to-day basis; I expect the GUI to be intuitive; I expect the CLI or API to be logical and I hope the nomenclature used by most players to be common. 

The Storage Admin does more day-to-day and does it quicker; the estates are growing ever larger but the number of Storage Admins is not increasing in-line. But that part of the role still exists and could be done by an converged Infrastructure team and often is. 

So why do people keep insisting the role is dead? 

I think because they focus on the day-to-day LUN monkey stuff and that can be done by anyone. 

I’m looking at things differently; I want people who understand business requirements who then turn these into technical requirements who can then talk to vendors and sort the wheat from the chaff. People who can filter bullshit; the crap that flies from all sides; the unreal marketing and unreal demands of the Business.

People who look at complex systems and can break them down quickly; who understand different types application interactions, who understand the difference between IOPS, latency and throughput.  

People who are prepared to ask pertinent and sometimes awkward questions; who look to challenge and change the status-quo. 

In any large IT infrastructure organisation; there are two teams who can generally look at their systems and make significant inferences about the health, the effectiveness and a difference to the infrastructure. They are often the two teams who are the most lambasted; one is the network team and the other the storage team. They are the two teams who are changing the fastest whilst maintaining a legacy infrastructure and keeping the lights on. 

The Server Admin role has hardly really changed…even virtualisation has little impact on the role; the Storage and Network teams are changing rapidly, many are embracing Software-Defined whilst the Industry is trying to decide what Software-Defined is.

Many are already pretty DevOps in nature; they just don’t call it that but you try to manage the rapid expansion in scale without a DevOps type approach. 

I think many in the industry seem to want to kill off the Storage specialist role; it is more needed than ever and is becoming a lot more key…you probably just won’t call them LUN Monkeys any more..they’ve evolved!

But we persist…


  1. stuiesav says:

    Dare i challenge @storagebod Oh ok here i go…

    So i do disagree i think that storage is becoming folded more and more into the overall technology ecosystem. Your point about “People who look at complex systems and can break them down quickly; who understand different types application interactions, who understand the difference between IOPS, latency and throughput.” is well made, and also your point around server admin roles are essentially the same as they have always been is also well made..

    and then… the convergence point – i cant help but think this is where all the infrastructure guys will really end up…

    Typically hardened storage admins (as you point out) understand the implications of latency, IO, bottlenecks, technology stacks better than most – and this needs to be fed back into the overall infrastructure teams.

    I believe that this will happen and with the march-on of converged systems (either VCE type constructs or build-you-own) it is, in my view inevitable that centralised infrastructure teams will start being reformed to manage service rather than silos…

    why do i think this, well – as you point out, storage array management is becoming far simpler with underlying tooling becoming simpler. Workloads are better understood, and should be manged more from a service view rather than a discreet technology view

    Finally – how can it hurt to get some of those war-hardened professionals into those teams to manage workloads more holistically rather than just at the array point (lets face it – storage guys are really good at watching hot-spots emerge – and often help sysops through the various components of infrastructure stacks to find issues / bottlenecks / latency etc

    so is it the killing off of storage specialist roles – i dont think so, but i do think it has to be an element of joining in the whole, sharing the knowledge, breaking down of silos and thinking of how we best provision and manage services.

    Ciao and see you on the other side.


  2. I don’t think we really disagree…we will see converged teams but in those teams, we will see specialists. The silos may break down and we might end up with new silos; we might end up with performance specialists who look at things across the board; we might see availability specialists etc.

    I think there are number of people who seem to think that any form of specialism is bad. I think there’s a place for both specialists and generalists. There’s probably even a place for us both!

  3. Martin, I agree with much of your comment, but I’d add a slight slant to it. We don’t really need storage “admins” any more. Much of what goes on (provisioning, etc) could be done in an automated fashion with the right controls in place. Storage could be an on-demand consumption resource. We do however still need storage specialists to put in place the right solutions in the first place (as you say). This is where the skill lies.

    EMC’s ViPR (formerly iWave) was supposed to provide some of this functionality. Higher level architects could design/deploy the infrastructure and just let the developers consume it.

    I wonder if organisations that are implementing AWS and Azure still have storage admins? I suspect they don’t and just have the architecture teams. I think private cloud deployments could do the same, so 75% of “admins” could be dispensed with. This is perhaps step 1 to the admin being consigned to history. 🙂

    1. Martin Glassborow says:

      The organisations who utilise Cloud Services may not have ‘admins’ but the cloud service providers do. Now they might not call them admins and they may have a developer-hat as well but you do need someone who is going to provide the essential platform to run things on.

  4. Greg Ferro says:

    Networking professionals are seeing the same thing. Creating VLANs, device operations and protocol handling was once an arcane skill, today its core competency. We are also seeing the rise of software operations (SDN if you will) replacing and simplifying existing tasks.

    The trend to commoditisation of products and skills is inevitable in any market.

    One thing, I wonder if our generation of specialists is the last ?

  5. Ed says:

    I find increasingly my job as a storage engineer is performance analysis. Most of my customers labour under the belief that storage is measured by the terabyte. And for the lower end of the market, it is. An entry level array, thanks to cheaper processors, cheaper RAM, cheaper SSD, cheaper 10g ethernet and reasonable amounts of tiering – is probably “good enough” for most use cases.

    For these people, storage engineering is dead.

    But when you are looking at whether a million IOPs array is really needed, and trying to track down the developer who doesn’t see why pulling back every row of a 40tb database might be causing problems… Then you need your storage guy.

  6. Martin Glassborow says:

    I’m not sure whether we are seeing the last generation of specialists but I do worry where the next generation is coming from. As a group, infrastructure specialists seem to be ageing and there is little coming up through the ranks.

    Now as some people know; I’m in the process of putting together an apprenticeship scheme to try to develop the next generation.

    1. Ed says:

      I don’t think this is the last generation of specialists – I’ve been trying to automate and document myself out of a job for 15 years, and the end isn’t in sight.

      I agree there’s not so many ‘youngsters’ entering, but also think ’twas ever thus. I went to University knowing I found the whole thing really interesting, but had several hundred contemporaries who thought programming was the only thing that mattered.

      _most_ people who ‘get into’ sysadmin have done so accidentally. They’re the guy who actually replaced the toner cartridge in the printer one day, and thus branded themselves the ‘guy who knew IT’. I’ve taken to calling this phenomenon “Delegation by least incompetence” as that’s the way many places _seem_ to work.

      It’s always had a bit of a poor reputation as a result, because … well, ‘fix my printer guy’ isn’t really in the same league, but it’s the visible part of the iceberg.

      I don’t think that specialism is really going anywhere. I think we’re losing the middle ground, as we push usability forward, and have a rising tide of tech savvy users, and from the opposite ends systems that auto- everything.

      I think DevOps is the new buzzword (to describe things that Sysadmins have always done) to convince the ‘Programming is the Only Thing’ people that the world is wider than they think.

      But the Engineering aspect? Nah, that’s going nowhere.

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