2015: Who Will Run the Data Store?

Automated storage technologies free up storage administrators' time -- but maybe a little too much

When it comes to job stability and pay, storage administrators had it made in 2009.

In a volatile economy, as salaries for other IT positions were whittled down or saw little or no increases, the average salary for a storage administrator with 10 to 20 years' experience averaged more than $100,000 last year, up 3.2% from 2008, according to Computerworld's 2009 Salary Survey.

With their Fibre Channel mastery and a personal fiefdom of equipment, protocols and activities that nobody else touches, storage administrators enjoy a unique degree of job stability. But now there's a crop of new storage automation technologies that promise to change the way these IT professionals do their jobs and may even require them to (gasp!) share control of the storage kingdom.

"Storage is definitely at a point of change right now," from both a networking and organizational perspective, says Andrew Reichman, a storage analyst at Forrester Research Inc. Fibre Channel-centric storage is slowly moving toward shared Ethernet, and automated storage technologies allow data and application managers to store data themselves. Add to the mix automated data tiering, thin provisioning and information life-cycle management technologies, and suddenly the once iron-clad position of storage administrator appears to be showing signs of rust.

As data storage becomes more automated and efficient, will the skills of today's typical storage administrator become less valuable?

In five years, who will be running the storage shop? We asked storage administrators, industry associations and storage experts to weigh in on data automation's impact on careers.

The Biggest Threats

Application-centric storage is one of the biggest threats to today's storage administrator role, Reichman contends. "We're starting to see more examples of applications being able to do more storage management natively," he says. " Oracle has [automated storage management] tools, and they have Exadata, a purpose-built database storage platform. The application knows the context of data -- it knows more about what the data is doing, what it's going to be used for, when it needs to be archived. So I think it's possible that applications could do more of the storage tasks than an independent storage vendor."

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