As demand for storage grows so too does the need for more skilled specialists. But it takes more than hands-on experience to become a storage guru, it takes the right training.
IDC Australian senior analyst in software Megan Dahlgren believes that IT professionals with storage skills are in higher demand than ever. "Lack of skills ranks high in our surveys as a major problem with managing the storage environment, as the requirement for more people to manage such environments grows with the amount of data being produced," Dahlgren said.
However, Dahlgren insists that organizations do have options to overcome this problem.
A short-term response to the shortage of storage skills will put companies way behind the eight ball, Dahlgren said, while companies that make the most of their environment by using storage software solutions to manage it as it grows and plan for the long-term will be ahead of the market.
"Due to the exponential nature of the growth of data needing to be stored and the need to manage it more effectively, because of compliance and corporate governance requirements, organizations that don't take a long-term view will be hit with the greatest skills shortages in the future as they will simply not have enough people to manage the infrastructure."
The analyst says it's much better for IT professionals to skill-up based on the specific technologies they work on in their organization. "It is also critical to train in areas that provide growth opportunities and especially in software tools for better management, compliance, and information lifecycle management," Dahlgren said.
Graham Schultz, Brocade manager for Australia and New Zealand agrees with Dahlgren, pointing out that organizations can maximize their storage and infrastructure investment when storage administrators fully leverage the tools available to them to extract all the functionality.
"By the nature of online storage, it is absolutely critical to organizations that their applications are free of any loss of access to the information or storage devices," Schultz said.
"Qualified and skilled staff are recommended to ensure this is the case and that deployment and infrastructure designs are fully optimized." Brocade offers informal and formal education for IT professionals in this field, including three levels of certification training and a virtual classroom e-learning program.
"A skilled administrator can utilize a combination of their skills and storage management software tools to reduce the operational overhead required to manage the storage infrastructure, compared to the additional headcount that may be required to manage storage in a more manual and less sophisticated manner," Schultz said.
"Both [training and practical experience] are important and need to be combined but having said that, training in isolation is probably of less value than someone who has good practical experience."
Hitachi Data Systems technology evangelist Tim Smith has seen demand for skilled storage workers grow recently, and says there is a limited supply at all levels in Australia of highly qualified and experienced storage professionals.
"Over the past two years accessibility and availability of an organization's information assets has increased exponentially, increased by business reliance on key applications, growth in the sheer volume of data and requirements stemming from compliance legislation," Smith said.
"This is only going to continue to grow over the next three to five years."
Smith lists training options for acquiring storage skills as vendor-led training, independent storage training companies and first-hand experience. "Hitachi Data Systems provides an extensive range of courses on all aspects of storage, and independent training programs will continue to grow as the market matures and storage standards through SNIA continue to be rolled out," Smith said.
"There will be more emphasis on having skilled storage professionals in an IT team in the future, based on the trend that we have been seeing in the US over the past 18 months where specialization on storage and data services is now common practice."
When StorageTek Australia New Zealand human resources and training manager Noel Kelly approached Northern Sydney Institute TAFE NSW to provide formal training for its storage engineers, he quickly found out that there was very little available.
"When StorageTek looked at existing training courses, we found that no one had come to grips with all parts of data storage," Kelly said.
"Currently, most engineers get trained in one vendor's product, so they find it difficult to switch between products and even harder to switch between platforms, say from mainframes to open systems storage. They get locked in.
"We needed non-product specific training, so we decided to take a generic, industry-wide approach."
StorageTek commissioned the Northern Sydney Institute to develop and accredit a course, with a qualification, initially for its employees but also to be generally available to anyone interested in the topic.
The qualification, available at two levels, Diploma of Data Storage Engineering and Certificate IV in Data Storage Engineering, has gained Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) accreditation.
Andrew Della Porta, Northern Sydney Institute business development manager claims that this is the first time the institute has developed a course based around competencies and one that has been nationally certified.
"StorageTek has had the vision to provide a formal career path and training program for its employees. We don't often meet companies that are prepared to do this," Della Porta said.
"When we went looking for [course material for] StorageTek there was nothing.
"ANTA develops training packages to meet the training needs of most industries, but it had nothing for data storage engineering."
Thirty StorageTek engineers were the first to embark on the data storage engineering courses, with the qualification open to anyone wishing to pursue a career in data storage engineering.