What makes a SAN guru?

I received an interesting note from a recruiter who happened upon my articles when surfing the 'Net. He was doing some research into storage-area networks because he needed to hire a SAN guru. He said he wanted to get a better understanding of the concept, skills, and background of such an individual.

He asked, "What are the things that I should be looking for if I want someone who understands SAN, HP/Sun Unix administration and configurations using products such as Veritas, Brocade, HDS, Compaq and HP. What should I search for and what are the types of questions I should ask to determine if this person can actually configure, design and implement a storage-area network solution?"

Excellent question. In the direct-attach storage environment, the system administrator has, traditionally, been the one responsible for provisioning the storage. Most IT organizations therefore had a group of systems administrators, who had an extensive knowledgebase of the administrative tasks associated with Windows or Unix systems from Hewlett-Packard, Sun or IBM. They also had another group, with a different chain of command, for supporting the networking infrastructure.

With SAN environments, there really is a mixture of experience required.

EMA research has shown that most companies are looking for the one "guru" who can understand and manage this entire environment. There are some very good people who have these capabilities. However, they are few and far between AND they are expensive. In general, I recommend IT management, at least initially, look at their current employees and build a swat team made up of top network, systems and application specialists to create a requirements list for the storage.

Once the requirements are understood, most companies find at least one of the swat team members emerge as a strong candidate to design and manage the SAN. The benefit to the company is this person already understands the business priorities and can incorporate them into the overall SAN design.

Even so, this person may not have any specific background in Fibre Channel nor understand the differences between the vendors and their options. Recently, the Storage Networking Industry Association announced, with partner InfinityIO, the launch of the SNIA Fibre Channel-SAN Certification Program (http://www.snia.org/education/certification/) to build expertise on specific technologies and products.

However, I have not answered the question directly, have I?

Well, I'll answer it the way I answer most questions - it depends. If I were hiring a SAN guru, I would look for someone with a systems perspective, i.e., someone who can understand the strengths and weaknesses of the different architectures and design an infrastructure that combines components to meet the needs of the business.

I would like for this person to have experience with a couple of operating systems. Most tasks required by an administrator are the same regardless of the operating environment. A person who has experience with a couple of different environments are more likely to comprehend this and are able to quickly figure out how it is done in other operating systems.

Finally, I would look for someone who had the ability to quickly determine business priorities and translate them into technical requirements. This skill provides IT the ability to question vendors intelligently, even if nothing is known about the vendor or their products. Oh, and I forgot, they should be from Missouri... the "show me" state. This helps cut through the fantasy of sales.

In short, a person's ability to learn quickly and see the "big picture" are the No. 1 and No. 2 qualifications. Everything else can be taught.

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