The Future Of Storage: Here's How Not To Get Left Behind8:00 AM EST Thu. Dec. 20, 2012
Changes in the way businesses store and manage data in the next decade will force IT personnel to adopt new skills or look for a new job. In turn, solution providers specializing in storage will need to make changes in the way they do business to adapt to the evolving technology landscape.
The growth of cloud storage, convergence of storage and servers and influx of flash storage -- along with an increased need to gain business intelligence from data -- are driving fundamental changes in IT operations. For IT personnel, the focus will be less on the nuts-and-bolts of building and running the IT infrastructure and more, or even exclusively, on how to derive value from that infrastructure.
Among the hardest hit will be the "cable monkeys" -- the folks with screwdrivers in their pockets and cables hanging around their necks. With the advent of converged infrastructures and reference architectures where a vendor or distributor is handling much of the assembly and configuration work, much less of that will be done at the customer site.
Closely following the cable monkeys into obscurity will be the straight storage administrators, said Jamie Shepard, executive vice president of technology solutions at ICI, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider.
As the adoption of flash memory technology permeates the storage industry, IT departments will no longer be concerned with such details as managing RAID groups, Shepard said. Instead, storage, along with applications and other parts of IT, will be managed at the virtualization layer.
"VMware server guys, and anyone who is VMware-certified, will be the most important people in the company," he said. "Companies will virtualize all the servers and applications, and the VMware server guys will be the people customers turn to learn about or get help with their applications."
Those virtualization experts will become much more storage-centric as well, Shepard said. "They'll make storage more flexible," he said. "New technology will let them manage storage on-the-fly. Or with intelligence increasingly built in storage arrays, the arrays will manage the storage automatically."
Claus Mikkelsen, chief scientist at Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), said skill requirements in storage will actually follow the same path as what happened with automobiles.
"As a youth, I got greasy under the hood," Mikkelsen said. "Today, if I open the hood, I don't recognize much of what's under there. With storage, sure, things will need to be set up and tuned. But who knows what engine or carburetor is in there."
NEXT: Rise Of The Data Scientist
A new skill that will be in big demand will be the data scientist, or people who are trained to gain business value from all the data they collect.
There is a severe shortage of IT personnel with the ability to do the business intelligence functions related to big data. The McKinsey Global Institute estimated that by 2018 the U.S. will need 440,000 to 490,000 people with deep analytical training.
Mark Teter, CTO of Advanced Systems Group, a Denver-based solution provider, said IT organizations will have to decide whether or not to take on the role of business analytics for their companies.
"If they don't, the business units will take the job," he said. "The data scientist is a whole new role we are not seeing much of today. They will provide the performance needed to run many future applications."
Teter said other titles to look for in the future include cloud architect, operational performance manager, operational readiness director, and operational administrator. "Operational administrators are like 'drone pilots,'" he said. "They just sit there and fly the machines through the business processes."
As IT organizations and businesses evolve, solution providers will have to become less like a grocery store and more like a food connoisseur, said Roberto Basilio, vice president of storage product management at HDS.
"They will need to see the value of what they bring to the market and move to being a provider of the best infrastructure," Basilio said. "The ones that emerge successfully will have the ability to select the right components and implement them in the best way for customers."
New sales skills also will be needed to match the coming changes in the storage industry.
For instance, selling a storage cloud is not the same as selling a storage array, said Dave Cerniglia, president of Consiliant Technologies, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider.
"For solution providers, being able to leverage recurring models is very attractive," Cerniglia said. "You go out, evangelize, fight the battle, but if you win, the customer next year will sign up again. You won't have to fight that battle again."
NEXT: Sales Shift
Shepard said his company has been transitioning its sales reps to be less hardware-oriented and more focused on understanding data centers, operations, applications and users.
"They have to become more user- and app-focused," he said. "We're now starting to meet with customers' applications people more and more. Our guys need to talk about the impact of IT on their applications. We're training our guys to ask if they can get a user into the meetings to talk about the apps and turning calls into more of a business-centric meeting."
Shepard said ICI has three big letters up in the office spelling out "WHY." The main target of the letters is more mature sales reps who are having trouble transitioning from their old ways of working with customers' IT requirements.
"If a customer says they want to do something, the reps need to ask, 'Why?' " he said. "A ton of the old sales reps don't want to ask. They're afraid of the answer. But they need to ask in order to help guide the customer."
The need to rethink sales for the future hit Teter recently after a meeting with a customer that provides Infrastructure-as-a-Service and that just hired an ex-CIO as its new sales rep.
"It probably does help to have an ex-CIO to sell the cloud," he said. "With the cloud, sales reps need to be more of a CIO consultant-type of person rather than someone who calls up and says, 'I'm here, let me buy you lunch.' "
Yet while all the coming massive changes in how IT is deployed and managed will mean a big shift in the skills IT professionals will need to keep up, there is still time to get ready.
David Scott, senior vice president and general manager of storage at Hewlett-Packard, said these transitions take a significant amount of time.
"Today, the biggest part of IT spending is still on traditional infrastructures," Scott said. "So the good news for resellers is they have time to adapt to the changes and disruptions that are going to happen. They can invest in changing their business model, and in building their own services, which is capital-intensive. Or they can become brokers to these new services."
These changes won't bite IT professionals in the next year or two, Scott said. "But they can't stick their heads in the sand either," he said. "They can't wait for a decade."