Back to School for SAN?

Back to School for SAN?

David Morgenstern

As the IT industry struggles to pull itself together, storage vendors keep adding pieces to the puzzle; the emerging picture looks bright. Just last week, for example, Network Appliance reported year-to-year gains of about 25 percent.

But while IT budgets for storage hardware and software may be on the rise, I would wager the line item for SAN education may prove abysmally low.

According to a recent survey conducted by Kasten Chase Applied Research Ltd.’s Secure Networked Storage Advisory Council, customers averaged about four storage area networks spread over three sites, with 54 servers connected to each SAN. The managers polled expected their storage requirements would climb 31 percent in 2003 and 34 percent per year in each of the next two years. In addition, the survey reported that the median of three persons run those SANs.

However, it’s one thing for a customer to purchase a product or technology and another to implement it. The best practices in SAN management, data archive and storage security will come from linking a technology with people.

Nevertheless, an education gap appears to be developing, especially in mid-sized organizations and small enterprises. Here are a few examples and observations:

I recently received a note from a self-described storage manager with a number of questions about the worldwide naming conventions for SAN fabric and HBAs. It was obvious from the questions that this person was involved in the day-to-day management of a storage area network. Yet, one question asked the difference between the worldwide names for a SAN node and port. This is fundamental SAN information, yet it was absent from this person’s learning.

According to Mark Silverman, CEO of storage reporting vendor Bocada, the industrywide downsizing of the past several years has interfered with training and support in many companies. While it can take a while to rebuild a storage infrastructure, he said, it can take even longer to regain the best practices needed for success.

“The lack of institutional knowledge is contributing to a lot of issues right now,” Silverman said. “A company might hire an expert to come in and configure all these systems, spending a few months to get them up and running. Later on, something changes in the environment, and the uneducated [staff] people don’t know how to fix it and can screw up the whole system.

“Now, the same thing can happen with skilled people, but they will realize that something is screwed up and then try to fix it. The people without the necessary skills don’t even know that something is wrong,” he said.

In a recent discussion, Hari Venkatacharya, Kasten Chase’s senior vice president of secure networked storage, said that 60 percent of SAN administrators don’t bother to change the default password on switches. “This is a no-brainer, obviously, but we find that we spend a fair bit of time letting them know why they have to do that.”

“Security isn’t simply about technologyy—it’s about people, processes and procedures as well as technology,” Venkatacharya added.

What’s the answer? Good question.

The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) offers a three-step Storage Networking Certification Program. The top two tiers of the program are designed for individuals who actually deploy and manage Fibre Channel networks. The group said it expects to add modules for IP Storage and NAS gateways in the future.

Or perhaps it’s just best to explore educational opportunities through the vendors of your specific hardware and software. That’s the most practical approach and may appeal to upper management.

Either way, this knowledge gap won’t close by itself.

What’s the best way to get SAN training? Let me know what you think!

David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.

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Copyright © 2003 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Storage Supersite.