Last week I had an interesting chat with Andy Warfield (CTO and founder of Coho Data). We started a debate about his latest article and the pros and cons of custom hardware design in modern storage products.  However, the conversation quickly got side-tracked to another topic: the role of the Storage Admin, if any, in 2016.

What is the role of the Storage Admin, if any, in 2016?

As I said, it all started from the role of hardware in the design of new storage solutions, but ended  up in a discussion about what end users really want from storage systems today… and what vendors are doing to make it happen.

What do you want from your storage?

The answer is very simple. The wish list is not the same for everybody, but I’m sure that in the top 5 positions “ease of use” or, more in general, “easy to operate” is always included.
“Ease of use” or “easy to operate”, which incidentally are not the same, are on the top for several reasons. Sometimes it’s about scalability (scale-out is easier to operate than scale-up), it could be about protocol choice (multi-protocol gives you more choice and freedom), user interface (not just a good UI but also strong APIs), integration and so on.  Even all-flash could be considered a way to simplify your storage because, to a certain extent, it avoids complications with performance tuning!
Everything is now designed to bring simplicity and avoid any sort of complexity… especially at scale! The goal, for many vendors, is to make the storage layer very transparent, as is happening for the rest of the infrastructure.

And lately we are starting to see evidence of this trend: many newer storage products are operated by non-storage administrators!

Many newer storage products are operated by non-storage administrators!

The Storage Admin is dead

Sorry to say, but this is true. I know it’s hard to deal with your own death but you, Storage Admins, are a dying breed. You are the last man standing, the guy defending the last hill… but no one told you that the war has ended (…a while ago actually).
Thinking about storage as storage estate, the arrays and storage area networks to manage, it’s no longer possible. The quantity and quality of data is so large now that the same tools can no longer be implemented nor can the infrastructure be looked at in the same way as in the past.
Man wrapped in cables.It has already happened to your colleagues a long time ago. The server admin is dead and now you have two different roles: the rack guy and the virtual infrastructure admin (or simply, SysAdmin).  The server admin who hasn’t evolved and insisted on dealing with servers is doing it in the datacenter now (with all due respect to those poor guys working in that inhospitable environment 😉 ), racking servers, wiring them, switching them on and doing maintenance. The evolved SysAdmin is actually doing another job…  in fact, he is now in the automation and orchestration business, with hundreds of servers under management (if not more), a bit of coding and a lot of fancy foot work… He/She probably doesn’t even know where these servers are physically located in the data center. The SysAdmin just has a virtual view of them, but this doesn’t mean that he/she doesn’t have complete control over them. The truth is that now all these virtual servers are much more under control than in the past and the whole infrastructure is more flexible and manageable.
The split between the server guy and the modern sysadmin started 10 years ago… when VMware and hypervisors in general were finally accepted as a valid option for enterprise workloads…
Now, thanks to flash memory, virtualization, software-defined storage and above all the cloud, it no longer makes sense to micro-manage storage systems… otherwise the risk is to become another rack guy.

Thanks to flash memory, virtualization, software-defined storage and above all the cloud, it no longer makes sense to micro-manage storage systems…

Long live the Data Admin!

As with the server/sys admin, it’s time to evolve. Are you ready?
New Job, next exit creative road sign and cloudsIn a similar evolutionary process, like what happened to the server admin, the storage admin needs to become a Data Admin. Concepts regarding automation, orchestration and even coding are applicable to storage: from migration, configuration and provisioning, the data admin will have to think more about applications, data policies, security, data protection and re-usability/recycling of resources. At the end of the day the goal is the same, it’s all about data management (protection, performance and SLAs…), it’s just that data growth rate (and diversity) is quite unmanageable with traditional tools now, and you can’t do that by working on the single storage array. You have to apply your knowledge and do it at scale!

The Data Admin will have to think more about applications, data policies, security, data protection and re-usability/recycling of resources.

Some tools are ready, others are still in the early stages of their development but the whole data center is going towards that direction and storage should too… The difference is to start moving away from the concept of the storage systems and start thinking about storage infrastructures and data virtualization.  APIs, integration with hypervisors, strong automation and much more: now that storage is much smarter than in the past it’s time to change the way we use it.

Closing the circle

With more and more private and hybrid cloud deployments, storage has to follow the trend and become smarter. I know the conservatism of storage administrators but they need to think more only about data and less about bits and pieces.
Hand with marker writing: New Mindset -> New ResultsContainers and other technologies up in the stack are taking data availability, resiliency and durability for granted. While users, no matter where they are accessing data from, expect uncompromising performance and capacity.
Last but not least, storage is more competent than in the past and software-defined solutions allow you to build much smarter and flexible storage infrastructures now.  In some cases, they are also capable of off-loading  some compute tasks directly to the storage infrastructure. Examples are all around us but, again, this means that you need to think more about data and less about the box containing it.

Disclaimer: I’m doing some work Coho Data.

TECHunpluggedIf you want to know more about this topic, I’ll be presenting at next TECHunplugged conference in London on 12/5/16. A one day event focused on cloud computing and IT infrastructure with an innovative formula combines a group of independent, insightful and well-recognized bloggers with disruptive technology vendors and end users who manage rich technology environments. Join us!