Starting a Career in Storage Networking

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Is this a good time to embark upon a storage networkingcareer? Naysayers might point to the tough job market, or a future where storage, networking and systems converge to such a degree that there will no longer be much demand for data storage specialists.

But many in the industry say it’s as good a time as any to get started in the storage industry.

“I’m seeing many signs of the market improving, and with that there will be more demand,” said Greg Schulz, senior analyst and founder of StorageIO Group.

There certainly seem to be more job postings than before at sites like Jobstor and Storage Monkeys. But if you look at the openings, they tend to be a bit intimidating to the person fresh out of school. One posting asked for:

“10+ years experience, familiarity with at least one major backup/recovery software framework (e.g. EMC NetWorker, Symantec NetBackup, and IBM TSM) along with a knowledge of general backup/recovery concepts such as database logging, backup leveling, media management, etc. This should also include working knowledge of industry leading tape and tape library solutions. Familiarity with Fibre Channel/ISCSI /FCoE (SAN/DAS), IP-based storage network solutions (NAS/CAS/WORM) and how these technologies are applied to backup recovery, primary storage, data replication/disaster recovery and archiving. Technical certifications with: EMC, HDS, NetApp, HP, Symantec, and/or IBM Storage.”

Another sought: “4 years of data center experience, 4 years of consulting experience, 3 years of systems (Windows and UNIX) experience, 3 years of storage and server architecture, extensive application experience (SQL, Oracle). Deep proficiency in at least one of the following storage platforms (EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, FalconStor, or HP P Series). Backup/restore and data protection experience.”

Pretty daunting requirements for a rookie, but at least it gives some idea of the kinds of technologies and qualifications that are valued. So an early step is to find out what certifications and courses to pursue.

“Some of the industry trade groups such as the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) do a good job of education, and likewise some vendors also have good programs,” said Schulz. “However this represents two extremes — one being neutral or generic, and the other being applied yet vendor-centric, so look for a balance.”

Storage Training and Certifications

SNIA offers several forms of training, with no membership required. Tutorials, for instance, are delivered at the bi-annual Storage Networking World (SNW) conference or via the web site. This encompasses more than 75 tutorial topics. Other free resources include a storage dictionary, a storage networking primer and podcasts.

If you can get to Colorado, SNIA runs multi-day instructor-led classesfor a fee. The organization has just opened a SNIA Technology Center at an LSI (NYSE: LSI) facility in Colorado Springs. It will operate as a global hub for industry-wide standards development, interoperability testing programs and classroom education for IT professionals and engineers. It takes up 8,600 square feet of data center, computing lab, office, classroom and meeting space.

“The state-of-the-art facility will allow SNIA members and end users to carry out critical tasks that help to advance data management and storage networks,” said Wayne Adams, chair of the SNIA board of directors.

Free tours are offered any day of the week, and training courses are hands-on. If you can’t get to the lab, you can attend free SNIA Hands on Labsand do classroom exercises on various topics at any SNW event.

Adams is gracious enough to state that SNIA training isn’t enough. He urges candidates to also partake of specific storage training based on vendor equipment. You can look that up at the Web sites of companies such as IBM, HP, Brocade, Symantec, EMC, NetApp, HDS, Cisco and so on.

He also suggested some books:

On the Job Storage Training

Mike Karp, an analyst at Ptak, Noel and Associates, said that general storage training, education and certifications have far less value than a willingness to put in long hours on the data center floor, first learning by watching and then learning by doing.

That said, once a new IT staff member is on site and subjected to the real world, courses specific to individual storage products have high value, said Karp. This training is either offered by the vendors themselves or by value-added resellers.

“EMC and IBM offer excellent courses for their own products,” said Karp. “Courses and certifications offered by SNIA are also excellent in every sense.”

Once hired, new hires can generally look forward to abundant training. The reason: Most enterprise IT managers see their storage team more as an asset than as a cost center, and they are willing to invest in developing that asset.

“Why not have your employer invest the dollars,” said Karp. “A good rule to follow or any aspiring member of the IT team: You invest the sweat equity and the time and let the company invest the dollars.”

While certificates and degrees have their place, they are far from the whole story.

“Mine hang on the wall and are covered up by other things accumulated over years,” said Schulz. “I put more value on experience than the certificates, although there is a place for each.”

Gaining Storage Experience

This is the old conundrum that has puzzled neophytes down the ages. How do you get that experience when no one will give you any until you have some? Schulz said a time-tested approach is to intern while still attending school so that you gain a foothold. This often gives an edge to job candidates compared to those with similar qualifications but who didn’t intern.

Another possibility is to find a mentor, someone who will trade some of their experience for some of your time and interest to learn more.

“Be willing to get in on the ground floor, perhaps doing things others don’t want to do, ranging from backups to cleanup or working on call or during weekends,” said Schulz. “If you play your cards right, you might also get someone to endorse you.”

Karp offers another suggestion of how to get into storage — via the back door. While storage positions often come with meaty experience requirements, the help desk is often less demanding in both the qualification and the experience fronts.

“Working in a help desk job is a frequent jumping off point for technical areas of IT such as storage,” said Karp. “Try to become the storage go-to guy for your company’s help desk: Read the manuals, sit in on the free webinars during lunch, and when you’re building your resume, document all that.”

Adams suggested joining SNIA and volunteering in project committees as a way to get to work with seasoned veterans and learn the ropes.

Associations and Resources About seven years ago was the heyday for storage associations. The Association of Storage Networking Professionals (ASNP) appeared on the scene as a vendor neutral forum. That sparked the formation of a flurry of user groups around the country. At the same time, we saw the arrival on the scene of SNIA’s Storage Networking User Groups (SNUG) and a few other bodies. Most of that has faded, unfortunately.

According to Schulz, the one that is getting the most traction right now is Storage Monkeys. It’s a good idea, therefore, to join that forum as well as the various storage-related groups that exist on platforms such as LinkedIn. SNIA, too, has end user Web sites that offer help from other storage users. And then there are various other useful sites and communities such as StorTOC

Storage Salaries

What are the salary expectations for storage jobs?

A less experienced storage administrator averages $44,500, according to the Computerworld Salary Survey. Simply Hired indicates that storage salariesaverage around $53,000. Certification Magazine reports that some EMC certifications can fetch $100,000 or more.

Karp said you can expect mainframe salaries to be higher than those for open systems. Pay also varies according to geography.

“There are lots of opportunities in storage, but it would be wise to have diverse skill sets in a couple of different areas,” said Schulz. “If you are a storage person, learn servers or networks.”

In other words, keeping an eye on convergence might not be such a bad idea after all.

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Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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