At last week's Peer Incite reviewing EMC's VFCache, the Wikibon community discussed the ramifications of the emerging flash-based IO hierarchy and its implications for the role of the storage admin. In today's do-more-with-less economy, CIOs are talking about streamlining organizational structures generally and specifically reducing "admin creep." This is a wake-up all to classic storage administrators to educate themselves in new disciplines.
As documented in the Professional Alert Opportunity: The Veritas of the Flash Stack, 20 years ago storage function began moving from the host server to the array. As this occurred, many DBAs got out of the business of storage performance management, tuning, and volume management and the SAN manager became an important role within many organizations, co-opting many of these tasks.
As signaled by announcements such as EMC's VFCache, the storage hierarchy is evolving. This is both an opportunity and a threat to storage administrators. On the one hand, as storage management function moves up the stack and closer to the processor, it is an opportunity for storage professionals to expand their knowledge and their sphere of influence. On the other, as applications begin to take advantage of new system architecture and design (see http://wikibon.org/wiki/v/Real-time_IO_Centric_Processing_for_Big_Data), a sea change may occur within organizations whereby new skills will be required to thrive.
In particular, storage admins have an opportunity to focus on honing virtualization skills (e.g. VMware and Hyper-V) while at the same time becoming more server savvy. Industry trends are pointing toward server architectures becoming more "Big Data Friendly" and data-centric, and storage admins who update their skill sets stand to prosper. The most prudent path is to become conversant in related but non-core areas and specialize and go deep in a particular discipline. For example, a storage pro might become more familiar with VMware and new server architectures while deeply specializing in an application area such as database performance.
By identifying emerging industry waves and staying ahead of the education curve, storage admins can remain relevant and thrive in a world where the storage hierarchy that's been familiar for decades is about to undergo significant change.
Action Item: Storage admins have seen function move in their direction-- i.e. toward the array-- for decades. The pendulum is now swinging as function moves back toward the server. However we are entering a data-centric (big data) era, and this bodes well for storage admins who update their skills and follow the functional movement. Storage admins should increase their skills in the areas of virtualization, new server design, and even specific application areas as a means of increasing their value within their organizations and identifying ways to exploit the trend toward IO-centric architectures.