The Smarter Storage Admin (Work Smarter not Longer)

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Lets start off with a question: Who is the best storage admin?
1. The one that starts at 07:00 AM and leaves at 18:00 PM
2. The one that starts at 09:00 AM and leaves at 16:00 PM

Two simple answers but they can make a world of difference to employers. Whenever an employer answers with no. 1 they often have the remark that this admin does a lot more work and is more loyal to the company. They might be right however the daily time spent at work is not a good qualifier for productivity so the amount of work done might be less than no.2. This means that an employer has to measure on other points and define clear milestones that have to be fulfilled.


Whenever I visit customers I often get the complaint that they spend too much time doing day to day administration like digging through log files, checking status messages, restoring files or emails etc. etc. These activities can occupy more than 60% of an administrators day which can be avoided.
To be more efficient one has to change the mindset from knowing all to knowing what doesn’t work. It’s a very simple principle however to get there you have to do a lot planning.
An example is when a server reboots do I want to know if the switch port goes offline? Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. It all depends on what the impact of that server is. Is it planned or not or maybe this server belongs to a test environment in which case I don’t want to get a phone-call in the middle of the night at all.

The software and hardware in a storage environment consists of many different components and they all have to work together. The primary goal of such an environment is to move bytes back and forth to disk, tape or another medium and they do that pretty well nowadays. The problem however is management of all these different components which require all different management tools, learning tracks and operation procedures. Even if we shift our mindset to “What doesn’t work”, we still have to spend a lot of time and effort in thing we often don’t want to know.

Currently there are no tools available who support the whole range of hardware and software so for specific tasks we still need the tools the vendors provide. However for day to day administration there are some good tools which might be very beneficial for administrators. These tools can save more than 40% of an administrators time so they can do more work in less time. It takes a simple calculation to determine the ROI and another pro is that the chances of making mistakes is drastically reduced.

Another thing to consider is if these tools fit into the business processes if these are defined within a company. Does the company have ITIL, Prince2 or any other method of IT service management in place. If so the storage management tool has to align to these processes since we don’t want to do things twice.

Last but not least is the support for open standards. The SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) is an non-profit organization which was founded by some storage vendors in the late 90’s. The SNIA works in conjunction with its members around the globe to make storage networking technologies understandable, simpler to implement, easier to manage, and recognized as a valued asset to business. One of the standards ,which was recently certified by ANSI, is SMI-S. This standard defines a very large subset of storage components which can be managed through a single common methodology. This means that you’ll get one common view of all your storage assets with the ability to manage it through a single interface independent of the vendor. If your storage management tool is based on this standard you do not have a vendor lock-in and day to day operations will be more efficient.
This implies however that the vendor also has to support the SMI-S standard so make sure you make the right choice if you are looking for a storage solution and ask the vendor if he supports the SMI-S standard and to what extend.

Greetz,
Erwin

About Erwin van Londen

Master Technical Analyst at Hitachi Data Systems
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