There are similarities to the advances in storage systems and the advances we’ve seen in automobiles. When you’ve spent most of your life working on both, the similarities become noticeable.
Storage systems today have a focus on improving simplicity. That’s simplicity from the standpoint of being easy to install and operate. Installation simplicity is measured by the number of steps or time it takes to provision volumes or file systems.
Beyond that, storage systems simplify management with self-tuning capabilities. The tiering built into many of the more sophisticated storage systems is an example of simplified management. Tiering can be automated movement of data between different classes of storage device – the most popular being solid-state devices (SSDs) and high capacity disks. Tiering can also be done by using caching with solid-state technology or DRAM. Most of these tiering features operate automatically.
These developments mean administrators no longer need specific training to handle many storage systems. The phrase used to describe the person that manages this storage is an “IT Generalist.” This development changes the requirements for IT staffing.
The analogy between storage systems and automobiles may be superficial, but makes for an interesting discussion. Tuning used to be a complex process. Tuning up an automobile meant setting the points and adjusting the timing by using settings on the flywheel that have been replaced with electronic ignitions. No more tuning is required – or possible – in most cars. Adjusting the carburetor was another seemingly never-ending task. You had choke control settings, air mixture valve settings, and don’t forget balancing in a multi-barrel carburetor. Fuel injection systems have changed all that. There are no adjustments now.
There are also many other monitoring and reporting systems for cars. Rather than listen or do examinations (sometimes called an Easter-egg hunt) to find a problem, it can be located through on-board diagnostics. This all makes is much difficult to make any adjustments and to “fix it yourself.” Few people have the detailed knowledge of the systems in their cars. Fewer still would know what to do about a problem.
So the car now has an IT generalist who can take the car to a specialist who owns the right equipment when there is an issue. With a storage system, the vendor support group — with the right tools — will diagnose and make repairs. As for tuning the storage system, there are systems that allow that to be done. But it takes a specialist with the correct training and tools to do it.
Overall, this is better for IT. The savings in training and personnel costs are evident. But there’s still that Ford with a 289-cubic-inch engine with a Holley carburetor that needs some minor adjustments.
(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).