Users Share SAN Staffing Struggles

Planning and communication are key to battling ignorance and misunderstanding

July 5, 2004

3 Min Read
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A panel of four IT managers closed the Storage World Conference/ASNP Annual Summit in Long Beach, Calif., last week with a lively discussion of storage staffing, in which the importance of planning and communication were cited as key to success -- especially as some end users still mistrust SAN technology.

"For the first year, it was a fight every time we wanted to move a direct-attached server to the SAN," said Gail Commer, IT manager of enterprise storage for Atlanta-based Southern Co. "Finally, [in-house users] are buying into it, now that they see the benefits... You just cannot communicate enough with other people in your organization."

Commer isn't alone. The panelists hail from diverse environments, including banking, healthcare, and energy. But all had to break new ground in their organizations to get a SAN team going.

For two of the panelists, the need for a SAN team rose only after the SAN was in place, and it became apparent it couldn't be managed in the "separate silo" fashion previously used for mainframes, Unix/Linux, and Windows applications. Putting reps from each group into single unit let them save money and improve efficiency while making their needs better understood.

A third panelist, representing a large bank, says her group made the SAN team part of the overall requisition for a new virtual SAN project replacing the original SAN. That eliminated the chance for problems to erupt.Other issues explored by the panelists included the following:

  • Separate support for open systems and mainframes. Two of the panelists say their SAN teams only deal with "open" systems, not mainframes, which continue to be served by separate DASD storage technicians. Greg Schuweiler of the Mayo Clinic, for instance, pointed wryly to the different orientations between Unix and mainframe experts, noting that his nascent SAN team, like his SAN, is mainly for the open, midrange systems -- even though he says mainframe technicians are good at helping define policies and procedures. Gail Commer, however, has both mainframe and open systems users on the team, and she says it's been beneficial for them to share pain points and knowledge of processes -- as well as "on call" hours.

  • Division of labor. Panelists conceded that deciding when the SAN team comes into play is an ongoing challenge. Server technicians often clash with the storage team over tasks related to data management. Here, planning is key. Panelists agreed that if it can be decided up front who's responsible for what, misunderstandings can be avoided.

  • Skills to look for in hiring. For Commer, getting the SAN team together entailed a cultural shift. Before the SAN, ITers were hired mainly for their technical skills. Now, she says, additions to the team have additional business and communication skills, so they can better deal with questions and concerns about SAN use that come from different parts of the organization.

  • Control of applications. SAN teams still face the age-old IT problem of making resources available for renegade applications that spring up without their knowledge. Suddenly, users who've created huge apps call for SAN resources that may not be there. Again, communication is vital: "We're trying to preach the importance of capacity and change management on the front end," Commer says.

  • Size of team. None of the panelists have large storage teams: One company is using "two and five-eighths" of a person to manage over 350 Tbytes of storage; a second uses just 3 to manage 90 Tbytes; and a third uses 9 to manage 150 Tbytes. In all cases, it seems once the team is in place and making decisions about storage, it's easier to call on other parts of IT to pitch in as needed.

The concept of a SAN team is also evolving. Panelists discussed the idea of creating a multi-skilled "data management group" geared to analyzing in-house user requirements and working with blade servers, SANs, and other networking to achieve the delivery of adequate resources for specific departments.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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