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Cloud storage muddies the career outlook for in-house storage specialists

The honeymoon of cloud computing is almost over. In-house IT staff needs to wake up to the new paradigm where their traditional roles, particularly those associated with mundane support services are gone – literally!

Cloud computing, and indeed, cloud storage will change the way data centers are run, including the provisioning of compute, storage and connectivity across the organization. Those whose jobs include ensuring backups, firmware updates, systems tuning and resource allocation, will find themselves worrying about the day they will be handed a pink-slip and a thank you.

How drastic the change is, including finding new employment, will depend on the direction the company takes on in terms of storage. Typical in-house roles such as primary storage administration, storage backup and data archival will all be impacted at different times or levels depending on the maturity of the cloud model the organization decides to undertake.

With the high cost of acquiring and maintaining one’s own storage infrastructure, it is easily possible and economical to pursue cloud storage whether for backup or archive purposes. In such a scenario, local applications will likely stay connected to on-premises storage – direct attached or via shared storage infrastructure like SAN or NAS. In this model, the storage administrator’s role albeit lessened because there is no need to worry about managing the physical aspects of a backup site.

The additional responsibility becomes one of managing the contract with the cloud provider as well as the cost for use of the third party storage assets. In this paradigm, the storage administrator must become acutely aware of the monthly GB used carefully being aware of retention policies. Remember the more storage you have hosted at a third party for longer periods, the higher the costs paid to the service provider. Archived data may actually be more economical to store at the discretion of the company – taking advantage of cheap tape storage for data that the company is not sure if they will need to recover.

Maturing virtualization technology and better understanding of the benefits versus limitations of storage-as-a-service (more popularly bundled under cloud computing services), will likely put pressures on in-house IT personnel including those responsible for storage systems maintenance and support to consider career options available to them.

James Forbes-May, Vice President of Data Management for Asia Pacific at CA Technologies, predicts a reassignment of resources within the organization is inevitable.

Whilst the higher echelon of IT in-house operations, predictions abound that the CIO will take on a role more akin to a manager of suppliers orchestrating the IT needs of his company which will largely be fulfilled by cloud-based service providers of various disciplines including security, compute, storage, applications, etc.

The traditional storage administrator’s role will also change with fewer expectations for handling the mundane management of day-to-day storage needs to one more along the lines of manager overseeing the delivery of services based on agreed service levels.

Forbes-May predicts a reassignment of resources within the organization is inevitable. Daily chores like fine-tuning the systems and overseeing replacements of faulty equipment will become the responsibility of the service provider.

In the outsourced model, the storage administrator’s unique experience will become critical in ensuring that the third party service provider meets its obligations to the company. It is arguably a more strategic role, with a greater emphasis on having overall responsibility, he will be “the face of the company to the provider or outsourcer helping to plan for current and future company needs, i.e. adding new staff, internal services and applications,” said Forbes-May.

Forbes-May sees a silver-lining for those who have developed very particular technology skills.  He believes that the storage administrator will take on a more tactical role becoming a facilitator responsible for overseeing the migration to an outsourcer.
Today’s storage administrator will work in conjunction with the cloud service provider to “ensure that their company needs and requirements are met especially in the areas of ensuring applications maintain a high standard or productivity mitigating risk to existing infrastructure, in addition to holding the outsourcer accountable to the defined operational service levels meeting any change requests, i.e. adding new staff, or applications,” said Forbes-May.

The storage administrator’s unique technical expertise and familiarity with his company’s business and operational needs will mean that he will be tasked with ensuring that the RTO and RPO objectives are maintained at the level of expectation that their business deems acceptable.

In this new role, a greater emphasis will be placed on knowledge of management tools that will ensuring availability and performance commitments are met. Forbes-May sees greater dependence on “solutions that can help facilitate the movement or migration of the company’s internal data to external or outsourcing facilities. Utilizing proven technologies such as ARCserve Replication or ARCserve RHA, which can copy data and failover in any combination of the following P2P, P2V, V2V, V2P and in all scenarios replicate and where appropriate for the application failover into the environment of the Cloud provider of their choice.

2014 is going to be the year when members of the IT organization become brokers of service between endusers and service providers. Whether it's a storage specialist or the CIO, it is the ability to quickly adapt to this new role that will mean a future. IT needs to shift focus to one of empowered business technology practices if it is to remain relevant in a service-defined future.

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