Ready for storage school?

Where do you go to get storage training? Ask that question and the answer is usually a blank stare.

The all-too-common reality is that many companies rely on vendor-provided training for their storage education, which is not surprising considering that a large part of their learning effort will be acquiring familiarity with vendor-specific tools.

The quality of vendor-administered education is generally very good, but as storage deployments become more diversified and vendor-agnostic, the need for alternative, independent training sources grows accordingly.

Since 1997, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) has been one of those alternatives, providing storage training to users and vendors alike. SNIA produces several certification programs and a variety of freely accessible online documents, including white papers, technical tutorials and -- no less important -- a comprehensive and unique dictionary of storage-related terms.

You may have already attended and appreciated one of the SNIA classes at Storage Networking World, the SNIA-sponsored storage event. In fact, according to SNIA records, since 2001 their certification program has attracted more than 900 participants, each pursuing one or more training objectives, resulting in thousands of certification credentials.

Although these numbers suggest their training courses are well received, SNIA recently announced a drastic change in their education programs.

"Our training programs were pretty much Fibre Channel-centric," says Mark Bradley, who chairs the SNIA Technology Center Committee. Bradley adds that in the fast-evolving, multifaceted storage landscape, users require training in multiple technologies such as iSCSI, ILM (information lifecycle management), and advanced data-protection techniques.

The new SNIA storage training program is articulated over four domains, including concepts, standards solutions, and products -- a comprehensive reference from which users can choose the curriculum that best fits their job duties.

SNIA will begin delivering the new courses in June -- some in partnership with vendors and other education providers.

"When our students go back to their company, they won't have to open the [textbook] anymore," Bradley says. Equally important, the new training programs will attempt to minimize overlap with vendors' training, integrating SNIA and vendor-driven certifications as appropriate.

But if you already know your storage business well, taking a class may not be necessary. In fact, by passing a not-too-expensive exam, you can translate your field-earned skills into a SNIA certification.

Does this all-inclusive storage training program sound too good to be true? Perhaps, but after an hour-long conversation with several SNIA people, the only weak point I see is that the training program could become an irresistible honeypot, attracting more potential students than SNIA and its partners are able to accommodate.

Bradley knows this could be an issue. "We are probably seeing only the tip of the iceberg" in terms of current interest levels in the classes, he says, adding that it's difficult to predict what kind of response the new training programs will generate in the United States and abroad.

But, as Bradley says, "If capacity [of our training structure] is the problem, that's a great problem to have."

SNIA is also pursuing another interesting trend in education by reaching out to academia, with the ultimate goal of creating a curriculum for university degrees in storage technologies. So far, two colleges local to SNIA -- Regis University and the University of Colorado -- seem to be interested, but the results of that cooperation won't be known for perhaps 18 months, according to Bradley.

Maybe one day we'll see the degree Doctor of Storage Technologies show up on business cards. Until then, you can definitely rely on SNIA training and certification programs to add some luster to your qualifications.

To find out more about SNIA training, education and certification in Australia, go to www.snia.org.au

Mario Apicella is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center

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