Computerworld

Beef up your paycheck: Top five storage certifications

Surveys indicate that a combination of storage experience and certifications are worth a lot

Storage jobs are hot and trained storage personnel are in short supply, say industry analysts and IT managers. This combination is weakening the resolve of IT managers to hold out for experienced personnel, leaving them with few options other than to hire those who have or are willing to obtain storage certifications. Though IT managers and analysts differ on which specific storage certifications are best for advancement in 2007, they recommend that individuals prioritize and obtain vendor-specific storage certifications that businesses can use right now.

With the concept of networked storage still relatively new for many companies, initial surveys indicate that a combination of storage experience and certifications are worth a lot. The top five storage certifications that IT managers want in 2007 are:

-- Vendor-specific storage platform

-- Backup software

-- Volume management

-- SNIA certification

-- Storage networking

David Foote, CEO and chief research officer at IT workforce consultancy Foote Partners, says he has been tracking storage-related salaries and certified and noncertified skills pay for more than two years, and 2006 is the first year his company started tracking storage certifications and their associated pay. Though data gathering for storage certifications is continuing, storage-area network (SAN) administrators are on Foote Partners' list of hot jobs for 2007.

Foote Partners finds that companies are desperate to get people with experience and certifications, and they are willing to pay handsomely for it. "In the last six months, we have seen 20 percent growth in pay for some SAN certifications. Moreover, salaries for senior storage network administrators are up 10 percent over the last 18 months, well beyond the average growth pay for IT jobs overall," Foote says.

Since companies cannot find experienced storage people, Foote finds some companies are willing to consider internal or external applicants with storage certifications. However, people with certifications are in short supply. According to Ralph Luchs, education director at the Storage Networking Industry Association, "There are only 1,000 SNIA certified professionals, and of those only 400 have gone on to obtain advanced certifications like the SNIA Certified Architect or SNIA Certified Storage Networking Expert."

In the absence of users possessing vendor-neutral storage certifications, vendor-specific storage platform certifications or training, such as EMC's Proven Professional, Hitachi Data Systems' Certified Storage Manager or Hewlett-Packard's StorageWorks training, top the list as to what companies are looking to reward in 2007.

Pete Fischer, a storage systems manager at a Midwest paper packaging company, followed this path to success over the past two years, achieving an associate-level EMC Proven Professional certification through online training. "EMC's coursework covered a lot of vendor-agnostic concepts and gave me a solid base for storage networking technology as a whole," Fischer says.

Steve Olson, infrastructure manager at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, similarly placed a high value on anyone with a combination of vendor-specific experience and certifications. He says that despite EMC's claims that the company's EMC Control Center management software would take the brainwork out of storage platform support and ease management problems, Olson found that managing his 20TB EMC DMX storage array is too complex through just a simple graphical user interface.

"Individuals holding disk subsystem certifications like EMC's are most valuable since it indicates to me they understand the inner workings of how a product like EMC's Symmetrix works," Olson says.

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Though vendor-specific storage platform certifications clearly lead the pack among IT managers in terms of desired certifications, IT managers prioritize the other certifications in the top five differently depending on the environments and needs of their specific shops.

Fischer says that because of his company's continuing data growth, his shop will always need individuals trained and certified in backup software. Since his company uses Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM), he gives preference to individuals holding the IBM Certified Deployment Professional -- Tivoli Storage Manager V5.3 certification when hiring or promoting. However, he also views other backup software certifications, such as Symantec Corp.'s Veritas Certified Data Protection Administrator, as viable alternatives if no candidates with the desired TSM certification are available.

At his site, Olson places a high level of value on volume management certifications such as Veritas Storage Certification Specialist or Sun Microsystem's Certified System Administrator. Olson says that administrators have to understand volume management to manage servers. Knowing that an individual holds a system administrator or volume management certification reassures him that the individual understands some of the finer points associated with managing storage, such as what a SCSI-3 reservation bit on a LUN means.

One certification that IT managers are warming up to is SNIA's vendor-neutral storage certification. Fischer lists obtaining a SNIA certification as one of his goals for 2007. He views a SNIA certification as increasingly valuable since he works in a heterogeneous storage environment with multiple operating systems, vendor storage platforms and Fibre Channel switches.

Though he finds that his EMC Proven Professional certification has given him much of the necessary knowledge he needs to pass the SNIA certification test, everyone on his team needs to know something about everything. Fischer says, "Though we are storage generalists, we are very deep in each skill set and the SNIA certification will help me to deepen my personal storage knowledge base."

Luchs says that a recent survey completed by his organization indicates that end-user interest in the SNIA storage certification is rising. According to Luchs, pursuing vendor-specific certifications takes people out of the office, and the user has to complete each vendor's foundational storage course before pursuing any advanced courses. "At SNIA, we want our SCP certification to satisfy every vendor's foundational requirements for basic storage knowledge," Luchs says.

As part of that survey, SNIA also discovered that 40 percent of those who took the test did it for career advancement while another 40 percent took the test to get into the storage field. Those who did pass the test indicate that it is paying off as SNIA reports that the typical SNIA certificate holder experienced an 8 percent increase in pay in 2006.

A Brocade Communications Systems Certified Fabric Professional or Cisco Systems Certified Network Associate certification rounds out the top five as storage certifications that will help users advance their career in 2007. However, the value of a storage networking certification varies by company, and it lacks the wider appeal that other storage certifications possess with the largest companies finding these certifications the most appealing.

Foote indicates that the key to translating a certification into a promotion is a user's ability to apply it. "The ability to design, configure, administer and optimize a SAN without impacting the current infrastructure or applications is paramount," he says. "Most employers have to grow these capabilities in-house because they cannot find this talent on the open market."

Storage certifications still do not, and probably never will, equate to on-the-job experience. But more IT managers are encouraging internal staff to pursue storage certifications and are making it worth their while once they receive them. Olson says, "I am making storage certifications a job requirement, paying for them to complete the certifications and then rewarding them when they finish it."

(See related article: What's in a certification?)