Automation's Impact on Storage Administration Jobs

Ann All

As IT infrastructure continues to undergo major shifts, so too will the jobs of those who attempt to tame infrastructure for their employers. I've written about this topic a couple of times, mostly in respect to the increasing demand for more "white collar" skills in the data center. Server administrators, database administrators and infrastructure and network specialists are among the IT jobs most likely to change and/or shrink in numbers, say experts like Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler.


Jobs related to data storage will be affected, thanks to the growth of shared Ethernet and automated storage technologies, according to a recent InfoWorld article. The piece cites Dave Willmer, executive director of IT staffing company Robert Half Technology, who says budget constraints are preventing many companies from embarking on large storage implementations. Companies are more focused on accessing their data than storing it, which means networking administrators may be more in demand than their counterparts in storage administration over the next few years, Willmer says.


Andrew Reichman, a storage analyst at Forrester Research, points to software with embedded storage capabilities such as Oracle's Exadata storage management platform. If these kinds of applications become more popular, says Reichman, the result could be individual storage experts for each major enterprise application and a shift in reporting structure that could lessen the need for a storage administrator.


The InfoWorld article mentions Scottrade, which is experimenting with a converged infrastructure, which CIO Ian Patterson says will create a need for staff with a blend of server, software and networking skills. He says:

This will change the market for the type of people we need. It won't be just a guy who knows EMC and Hitachi storage, but [one] who knows server, storage, and networking all in one device.

Indeed, IT Business Edge blogger Art Cole last month wrote that networking and storage groups typically have vastly different ways of doing things, which sets the stage for a potentially big clash over data center management.


Respondents to a recent Computerworld survey see no near-term danger, however. When asked if increasing automation would threaten the jobs of storage administrators over the next five years, just 23 percent responded affirmatively. Sixty-four percent said no, and 13 percent weren't sure. A majority of respondents, 52 percent, said storage administrators would continue to be in charge of storing data in the same time frame. Thirty-two percent said network administrators would handle this task, and 16 percent didn't know.


Wayne Adams, chairman of the Storage Networking Industry Association, also isn't convinced a converged network will result in a convergence of storage and network skills. Storage administrators ensure data is "always available, accurate and can be restored," he says, while network administrators focus on connectivity and bandwidth. He doesn't think that will change in the near future and believes companies will still need both kinds of pros.


This is all part of a broader trend of IT process automation that IT Business Edge's Mike Vizard addressed back in September. He wrote:

The very nature of the IT profession is changing right before our eyes. We have used IT to automate every single process imaginable, save one. The one exception to IT automation has always been the IT process itself. Now we're witnessing the automation of those processes at an accelerated rate, thanks to a number of technical and economic factors. The only question now isn't whether we will automate IT, but rather to what degree?

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