How hyper-converged systems change IT management

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How will the hyper-converged data center affect storage admin roles?

Despite easier provisioning and policy-based management, the unique knowledge held by storage administrators remains essential in the age of hyper-convergence.

One of the characteristics of a hyper-converged infrastructure is that storage and management are combined in the...

virtualization platform, which puts less emphasis on storage specialization for IT professionals. Storage administrators at organizations deploying a hyper-converged data center may need to adapt their skills to meet the requirements of the job.

A good storage admin spends their time ensuring the storage platform delivers what the business needs. This focus on the business is an important part of the future. Some storage administrators are far more concerned with disk groups, RAID levels and fibre paths. These skill sets will become less important over time. This is not only a result of hyper-converged data center adoption, but modern storage systems that are developed to be easy to manage. By using techniques such as wide stripping and flash storage, many of the troublesome tasks of past storage arrays have been eliminated. Many of today's storage arrays can fulfill most application performance requirements without manual tuning. User interfaces, reporting and forecast capabilities of storage arrays have improved, and Ethernet has become a viable storage fabric. This reduces the requirement for specialist knowledge to effectively manage storage. However, the need for storage admins who can tailor high-end SANs to high-end applications has not been eradicated. There will always be edge cases that require skilled storage management, though the number of organizations that need serious storage expertise on staff is reducing over time.

Storage admins should be ready to spend less time on the repetitive and mundane storage management tasks they often dread and instead focus on improving the business value of data.

In a hyper-converged data center, storage is presented as a cluster spread across all hyper-converged infrastructure nodes. The cluster manages its own data layout and does not use disk-based RAID. Most hyper-converged platforms use tiered storage with fast solid-state drives for performance and either slower SSDs or hard disks for capacity. All capacity is pooled and shared. There is little storage design required beyond ensuring adequate capacity and redundancy in both the performance and capacity tiers. Generally, storage is managed by policy, and the policy is applied to virtual machines. This VM-centric, policy-based management -- which may even include replication and backup -- is often managed by the virtualization team without any reference to the storage team.

One thing that makes storage administrators stand out is their knowledge of what is actually on the storage. This is how the storage admin can best provide value to a hyper-converged data center. As the finer details of disk layouts and RAID sets become less valuable, the knowledge of what is stored gets more valuable. This includes knowing what the data means to the business, which applications and VMs are part of what business systems, and understanding the compliance requirements that drive the policies and automation that are part of these newer storage platforms. This is essentially what is meant when someone refers to "moving up the stack." Storage admins should be ready to spend less time on the repetitive and mundane storage management tasks they often dread and instead focus on improving the business value of data.

The reality is that modern storage arrays and networks are far simpler to manage. As older arrays and networks are slowly replaced, the storage administration role must also change. Newer technology will take away much of the drudge work that may have filled the storage administrator's days, but their knowledge of the business and its data remains relevant and valuable.

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