Storage Skills Roundup

Experience with NAS, SANS, other new platforms will pay off as demand for storage grows.

Greenhorns neednt apply. CTS Professional Services Inc.—an Atlanta-based consultancy that designs and installs NAS and SAN systems for large outfits such as The Coca-Cola Co. and Delta Air Lines Inc.—needs only well-seasoned storage management professionals. In other words, IT workers who can rope together a rowdy and ever-growing herd of related skills, from EMC Corp. equipment expertise to architecture and software implementation know-how. Even certifications that take blood, sweat and tears to get probably wont keep a résumé out of the companys circular file if it doesnt show a good seven to 10 years of experience.

Granted, with many IT professionals out of work, companies such as CTS have a pool of experienced storage specialists to choose from—for now. But, as new storage markets grow, that will change. Despite the current economic downturn, Gartner Dataquest analysts say they believe the storage services industry overall may grow 8 percent per year from its current base of $26 billion to $41 billion in 2005. As this market grows, so, too, will competition for its skilled workers. This means that for any IT professional interested in the growing field of storage management skills, the time to start the arduous job of getting a handle on these well-remunerated skills is now.

Job boards such as post dozens of storage manager jobs with salaries ranging from around $110,000 to $150,000. But to be taken seriously for these jobs, candidates must demonstrate familiarity with storage management software from one or more vendors such as EMC, Hitachi Ltd., IBM, Storage Technology Corp. and Veritas Software Corp. In addition, they must be adept with the leading DBMS platforms and typically possess cross-platform experience in Unix and Windows NT/2000. Finally, employers look for expertise in Fibre Channel, IP networking, data security and disaster planning, according to experts.

How to get that experience isnt always clear. Vendor certification programs provide some training but can be expensive. For example, the full sequence of product and architectural training offered by EMC can cost more than $20,000. However, unlike some less-demanding certification programs run for other specialties, networked storage diplomas tend to carry some weight with employers, experts say.

But even though they garner more respect than some certifications, storage management credentials on their own arent enough to create a new generation of storage managers, since product-specific certifications dont teach higher-level managerial concepts.

Courses fall short of teaching students about the larger issues of performance and capacity planning, said Jason Buffington, director of technical marketing for NSI Software, a Hoboken, N.J., vendor of data-replication software. "Students know what all the screens will say when they click on them, but they dont learn why they should do that," Buffington said in regard to certification programs. "[Theres no] one place where you can get training in the whys of storage management."

As a result, companies such as CTS have created in-house programs to teach real-world lessons. CTS runs a five-day boot camp where engineers interact in mock customer meetings to learn what technical questions to ask customers, how to spot performance pitfalls in an organizations storage infrastructure, and how to grapple with the corporate politics that impact IT spending and data ownership. CTS management developed the camps content, and an engineer taken from the field acts as instructor. So far, 110 people have completed the course.

John Rosica, president of Management Recruiters of the Silicon Valley, in San Jose, Calif., recommends that people interested in a NAS and SAN career path take advantage of storage-related responsibilities available in their current jobs, as well as certification programs. The payoff, he said, is almost a sure thing. "The only risk is that you might spend money and time on a technology that never takes off," Rosica said. "[But] there are way too many vendors and too much momentum for that to happen here."

Thats a good incentive to grab the reins and graduate from greenhorn status.

Alan Joch, a free-lance writer, can be reached at