Like many tech roles upended by cloud computing, automation, data analytics, and other innovations, storage professionals are witnessing a sea change in their careers. The job of the storage administrator or engineer used to require deep knowledge in Fiber-Channel networks, World Wide Port Naming, LUN assignments and many other storage-specific terms. There was a dedicated network for storage and another for compute. Yet with the advancement of networking, increased virtualization, and budget constraints, many IT organizations have moved to running storage and compute on one physical network with the use of (iSCSI).
As enterprises store more data in the cloud, the job of managing on-prem storage has reduced significantly. Automation and advancements in storage technologies have simplified some of the basic storage tasks. It makes IT leaders wonder, “If users and business units can provision their own storage, is there still a need for distinct storage roles?”
The answer is a little vague—but assuredly, storage careers are morphing as enterprises focus less on managing physical infrastructure and more on managing data and data lifecycles.
New Storage Roles
Overall, storage IT professionals will find that their traditional duties of implementing and maintaining the hardware and mechanical layer have become less complex and time-consuming given innovations from storage vendors and cloud providers. And with storage now distributed across many systems and clouds, the need is to understand and manage the data contained on the systems—not the physical storage silos.
Here are some ways that storage roles will likely evolve and how storage professionals can maintain successful career paths as IT evolves.
Storage administrator/engineer to cloud data expert: Instead of a focus on the detailed technical configurations of provisioning storage and resolving issues, the storage admin will morph into a proactive role requiring a broader understanding of the full IT infrastructure. That knowledge includes compute, automation, DevOps, and containers.
Storage professionals will need to learn how to become trusted advisors to other IT and business roles and evangelize the future direction of data. This will require a collaborative mindset and approach to understand business requirements and user needs. Storage admins will find themselves working more closely with data scientists, project teams and DevOps. The bulk of the storage person’s time will now be spent identifying, segmenting and defining data types and managing that data granularly, according to business and user needs.
Storage architects to data management architects: Storage architects have an opportunity to work at a higher level, as well: the need is to ensure that diverse storage, backup and disaster recovery systems on-premises and in the cloud work well together to maintain data access and protection in the most efficient manner possible. The goal is to reduce the footprint of expensive storage and to evolve storage from a pure cost center to revenue-driving activities revolving around data.
For instance, systems and architectures that support the free movement of data from one storage technology to another without onerous fees and processes means that data can be used on-demand for a variety of purposes, from operational to research and analysis, ML/A.I.and future resource planning. By helping organizations cut storage spending, precious IT dollars can divert into critical areas such as security and analytics platforms.
Tips for storage pros navigating a new career path
- Be open with peers and managers about change and reskilling. Determine how you can take your past experiences to retrain, upskill, and deliver new value.
- Take the time to learn all you can about hybrid cloud architectures, cloud storage and how data moves across on-prem storage to these environments and back again.
- Understand the changing landscape of unified data management. New technologies help data easily cross boundaries between different systems and protocols.
- Negotiate compensation. As storage job roles change from technology deployment and maintenance to data management analysis and strategy, individuals will be able to command higher salaries.
Rather than thinking: my storage career is over, killed by the Internet, it’s time to flip that message and consider how a storage background is a means to transcend vendor-specific skill sets to a role that cuts across IT and the broader organization. A person with storage know-how could feasibly move into other areas of IT such as data mining, data lake analytics, cloud architects, and big data architects. Because without storage, after all, businesses can’t do much.
Data is the future of storage and knowing the construct of the data you have is key to the future of business. Executives at the highest level of any organization understand the power of data in an increasingly competitive, digital world.
Rob Gordon is a Senior Engineer at Komprise.