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Should you have a dedicated storage team?

Members of dedicated storage teams need to have as much political savvy as they do IT know-how.

If CIOs want to fulfill the potential for storage technology, Gartner Inc. said they will need an elite corps -- a "dedicated storage management team" -- that will combine storage expertise with a customer-first mentality and razor-sharp purchase and negotiating skills.

That advice is aimed mainly at companies with at least six to eight servers and, ideally, 16 to 20 servers. Gartner analysts Robert Passmore and April Adams have written a series of reports on the future of storage and how companies should prepare. The analysts predict that building storage teams that can maximize the potential for the evolving technology will be complicated. Political savvy, as well as IT know-how, is required, and that combination isn't easy to find.

First off, the leaders of IT teams dedicated to storage will require vision, energy, credibility and the requisite business smarts to deal with upper level management, Gartner said. "While the knowledge of storage and storage management issues is helpful, it is far more important for the leader to be able to establish successful relationships with peers, upper-level managers and other individuals inside and outside the IT organization," the report found.

It will be necessary to get system administrators and database administrators on board even though they are the groups most likely to be threatened by the new model, Gartner said. "They will often find their roles diminishing and may feel as if they are losing control of important elements in the environment."

Consider this excerpt from the Gartner report on building a dedicated storage team:

"Q: Which team -- the networking team or the storage team -- should support the fabric of the storage area network? And for that matter, is it easier for network staff to make the transition to storage or vice versa?

"A: The management of a storage network … is tied very closely to what's happening with storage volumes, a concept that the IP networking people don't know anything about. Most companies that experimented with including the IP networking staff on the storage team report that their involvement was more a hindrance than a help."

Adding to the potential for political trouble, Gartner suggests raiding your systems administrator ranks for members of your new dedicated storage team.

Where to find the dedicated storage team

The authors break out some dozen "critical skills sets," beginning with storage management -- "the most important and often the most difficult to acquire." Companies should be prepared for extensive training. Storage management skills are "often hidden within the system management ranks of today's organizations."

In addition to planning, monitoring, repairing and tending to all the day-to-day functions of running a storage network, the storage team will need to take a service approach, thinking of users as customers -- even when dealing with other IT personnel (such as system and database administrators) who used to be thought of as colleagues, Gartner said. The team will design and implement the future storage utility, so it will need architectural skills. A real-time storage model also requires strong project management skills.

Passmore and Adams pull no punches on two often-asked questions -- namely, how much should the networking group and the mainframe storage management teams be involved in this new breed of storage network. Neither is of much use, they contend. "[Mainframe storage teams] are rarely skilled and experienced in open systems operating systems and applications. We've also encountered situations where mainframe administrators assigned to the open system space are bewildered by the complexity and the lack of tools available." At most, one person from mainframe should be assigned to the systems team to "provide vision."

The IP networking people would also not be ideal dedicated storage team members.

"The networking team is focused exclusively on the IP stack and nothing outside the stack they don't even have to guarantee delivery of packets over the stack." As SANs grow, networking skills will become more important for the storage team, but as SANs bridge from site to site over wide area network technology, according to Gartner, that technology more likely will be delivered by the IP networking team to the storage team, as a service.

Not all CIOs are convinced that a dedicated storage team is a must. Melinda Kramer, is CTO at Grosvenor Capital Management LP, a Chicago-based asset management firm with $14.5 billion assets under management and 150 employees. Grosvenor is a Microsoft shop, with about 35 servers. But the storage size is not that large and the operations are handled by a handful of network engineers.

"I think we're looking more toward smarter, more capable tools to relieve the storage management process over time," Kramer said. "That would be my objective rather than beefing up a team for something that I just don't consider any type of business, strategic, competitive initiative."

The firm, for example, is just now embarking on an effort to develop storage architecture and storage strategies that would allow its trained network team to spend less time, not more on storage, she said. Grosvenor has recently done that with its e-mail archives, she said, using FrontBridge Technologies to allow employees to access their own e-mail archives. "We're looking more to a self-help process."

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