When it comes to IT jobs, storage engineers and storage managers are among the most critical roles. After all, we live in a data-driven economy, and how data is stored and protected is fundamental to not only business survival but society at large. Considering the growth rate of the data storage market —26% through 2027, according to Expert Market Research—storage experts with broad knowledge of unstructured data management requirements and hybrid data storage infrastructure will be in demand for the foreseeable future.
However, today’s storage engineering job is not the same as it was five or ten years ago. Migrating data within the data center, such as between one network-attached storage (NAS) and another, is relatively fast and straightforward for the experienced IT or storage manager. Once you begin moving data into the cloud or between clouds, there are many unknowns. With hybrid cloud infrastructure dominating most enterprises, storage professionals need a deeper understanding of not only cloud technologies but networking and security configurations and protocols. Configuration issues are a common cause of migration errors and delays. It takes a curious mindset and a knack for modeling and planning to do the job well today.
Once data has been moved to the cloud, consider the potential limitations with performance and capacity in some cloud storage services. With on-premises NAS, you simply call your vendor and add a shelf if you need capacity—at large expense, of course. Therefore, it's important to assess your environment and map out your cloud data strategy before you move any data. Understanding data, user needs, and broader organizational goals and requirements before you migrate to the cloud is essential.
There are also a host of technical skills and knowledge areas, ever-changing, which data storage professionals need to understand:
- Fiber Channel network skills: how to create zones, manage HBA firmware, storage ports, multipath I/O (MPIO) software, operating system storage commands
- iSCSI network skills: IP data network skills, creating VLANs, managing 10G network interface cards (NICs), operating system storage commands
- NAS skills: understanding data network designs, user permissions, Active Directory, DNS, operating system network, file permissions, and storage-related command sets
- Storage vendor skills: detailed training is needed for each major storage vendor's products, including cloud storage.
- Backup architecture skills: understanding backup network designs, backup storage technologies, recovery procedures, failover procedures
- Host integrations skills: understanding MS Windows, LINUX, and UNIX operating system commands related to storage allocation, usage, and MPIO
Bootstrapping skills in a post-pandemic world
The trouble is, getting educated and reskilled is perhaps harder than ever. IT budgets are still lean in a post-pandemic world-- made worse by global economic strains from the Ukraine war, inflation, and supply chain constraints. More than other information worker roles, IT professionals have had to make significant shifts during and since the pandemic, with remote work and hybrid work still the norm.
Developers, engineers, architects, and IT administrators/managers are accustomed to learning on the job by collaborating side-by-side with teammates. Drawing pictures on a whiteboard or reviewing code on a monitor with a coworker was the norm – but this has now been replaced by video calls, screen sharing, and collaboration tools like Slack and Miro. The IT “war room” where teams of engineers got together to hash out issues may be a thing of the past.
As a result, it’s critical to be proactive and self-educate by taking online courses, reading articles, and jumping into technical forums to ask questions. A first step is to complete basic courses and certifications in the major cloud providers (Azure, AWS, Google) depending on what cloud service providers (CSPs) are in use or in the roadmap at your organization. Newer cloud platforms such as Backblaze and Wasabi are also making strides. Get clear on the CIO’s plans and intentions for cloud infrastructure and how it aligns with your hybrid data storage strategy.
Next, storage admins should take it upon themselves to gain an understanding of their organization's specific business challenges and objectives. This could entail learning about sensor data in a manufacturing company or lab applications and microscopic data at a life sciences organization. Understanding your employer’s marketplace value and challenges gives the storage team a sharper understanding of data types, data volumes, file sizes, costs, end customer needs, and any compliance issues pertaining to the data in storage.
Traditionally, storage professionals haven’t felt pressure to understand business data profiles and lifecycles: but now, data volumes have exploded and pushed up storage and backup costs to 30% or more of IT budgets, requiring a nuanced approach based on metrics to ensure cost-effective unstructured data management. Storage professionals can no longer treat all data the same. In a data economy, storage pros are especially valuable if they can map business application and file requirements to the optimal storage technology over the data lifecycle. Typically, the line of business (LOB) manager—even if they work in an IT role—doesn’t possess intel on the data storage infrastructure. The data storage expert who can serve as a liaison with knowledge of both enterprise data storage and business data and applications will find they have an extra layer of job security.
Eric Platt is a Senior Sales Engineer at Komprise.