Missing from the Resume: SAN Higher Education

What's holding up in-depth training in SAN for frontline staff and managers? There may simply be a lack of opportunities.

As storage area networks work their way into middle-tier markets, IT managers may be eager to add the technology to their servers and start reaping its benefits. At the same time, they may discover that the knowledge needed for successful planning and implementation is missing from their organization.

In a recent column, I described this storage education gap and suggested that its one thing for managers to consider adding a product to their infrastructure and another to implement it. The best practices in storage must come from linking a technology with your people. But do they have the necessary skills and training to do the job?(For more information, see Back to School for SAN?)

Readers offered a variety of observations on the subject, including the state of readiness to add SANs to their sites, the place of training in an IT organization, and a word on a training program in California and Texas.

According to Dennis Dwyer, the manager of systems software at a power utility, my description could be applied to his company. He said the economic situation of the past couple of years has contributed to the situation.

"Granted, we dont have a SAN, but I am headed in that direction, and I must honestly say that I probably dont have a single person on my staff who has the education required to build and maintain that type of environment," Dwyer said. "Why? My training budget has been cut two years in a row. Im not talking reduced; Im talking cut completely. Im sure there are many others out there like me."

"In this day and age of do more with less, training becomes part of the less," he said. "As a former mainframe storage manager and performance analyst, I tried to port those skills to the distributed systems environment and have always found that good, technical training to address that issue was very scarce. I realize I need to get my folks trained for SANs, but Im looking to maximize my training dollars—assuming I get them again in the near future—and Im more interested in non-vendor specific SAN training than something put on by Sun or EMC."

Management analyst group Robert Frances Group has taken a look at storage education and ways it can affect the enterprise and storage administrators. Research analyst Christie Hangey said IT executives must think beyond formalized degrees in SAN, since no college or university offers a program. And IT execs also shouldnt rely solely on programs from storage vendors and industry groups, she added.

"One, vendor-specific programs that focus on technology already installed in-house or proposed may not be as relevant should the IT executive bring another vendors equipment in-house," Hangey said. "Second, by relying on an outside entity, IT executives will face the same problem should that [trained] staff member leave the enterprise. By having some first-hand involvement in designing an education program, IT executives are helping to build a knowledge base that can be utilized in the future."

Hangey tied in-house education into the concept of information lifecycle management (ILM). She suggested that IT executives need to begin to view their day-to-day business as a holistic operation, not just singularly focused on project implementation (or more specifically, hardware and software installation and maintenance) but as part of a comprehensive roadmap. Training is a part of that strategy.

"Each IT environment will have its own unique set of requirements," Hangey said. "IT executives who are not fortunate enough to be able to cull the skill sets from existing personnel or the current job pool need to be proactive in their approach to ensuring that the enterprise will be elastic and able to adapt to change. IT executives should not think of the SAN, or other network, as a static entity, and should plan appropriately. Where system implementation is done on a consulting basis, IT executives should ensure that a knowledge transfer occurs and that their own staff has a role in the project, so that the knowledge required to expand or otherwise adapt the network is retained in-house after project end."

Finally, David Cappadona is an instructor at Medusa Labs, which offers training programs in Fibre Channel architecture and installation. "Our fully wired classrooms allow students to analyze real-time results using protocol analyzers and other measurement tools. Our instructors are skilled at combining lectures and hands-on experiments into an integrated educational experience."

I plan to look further into Medusas program and others. At the same time, Im flabbergasted at Hangeys observation that no U.S. site of higher education offers any program in storage area networks. My apartment is blocks away from a large state university that offers a range of certificate programs, including IT auditing, training systems development, biotechnology, industrial design, meteorology for broadcasters and professional music recording. But no storage.

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Storage Center Editor David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.

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