The Storage Specialty

The data explosion is bringing more status, and higher salaries, to storage workers

For the past half-decade, it seems, networked storage has been expected to explode. "The Year of the SAN" was always just a few calendar flips away, analysts and vendors assured us.

Well, rearview mirrors are always more reliable than crystal balls, and many experts believe that 2005 was, in its own quiet way, the year of the SAN. Regulatory demands, wide acceptance of virtualization and an explosion of data have combined to bring respect, attention and dollars to the field of storage.

That's good news for IT professionals specializing in storage. Storage administrators' national average salary tops $80,000, while senior administrators average more than $95,000. And some experts say those pay scales have grown 2% in the past six months alone -- a trend that shows no sign of leveling off.

If rising salaries and status lead technology workers to deem storage a career specialty, as has happened with security, it will be a new development. "You don't set out in your career to do storage," says David Foote, president of New Canaan, Conn.-based Foote Partners LLC. "It's not a sexy place, and until recently, there was no ROI you could point to."

Storage tasks used to be performed by Unix systems administrators, MVS experts with mainframe backgrounds or Windows wizards focused on the desktop. The evolution of these ad hoc groups into a dedicated storage team again mirrors trends in the security field, experts say. "At some point, you're doing so much work related to security or storage that it makes sense to put that in your title," Foote says.

All-Around Storage

Until recently, storage chores had subsets across the IT organization, from the desktop to legacy databases and mainframes. But the growing importance of storage has pushed many enterprises toward a holistic approach. That's both good news and bad for those seeking a career path in storage. It's good because most IT workers, from help desk techs to Unix sysadmins and database administrators, are likely to have at least some storage experience. It's bad because the most sought-after storage professionals are the ones who are familiar with all of those areas -- and they are rare.

The desirability of storage workers with broad experience is seen in a higher-than-average salary differential between storage administrators and those who merit the "senior" title. Foote's 2006 salary survey gathered data from 51,000 U.S. IT pros at more than 1,800 employers. The survey, which was released in January, found a mean national salary of $80,500 for storage and SAN administrators, while the mean salary for senior storage or SAN administrators was $95,000.

Storage administrators' bonus pay ranged from 7% to 12% of their base salaries, while their senior counterparts' bonuses ran from 9% to 18% of base salary. The $14,500 base-pay premium for senior storage administrators -- a bigger differential than that found in most IT specialties -- reflects "a big run on experienced senior people who really know what they're doing," Foote says. The survey found that salaries for all storage administrators have risen about 2% in the past six months, a similar increase to that of IT as a whole.

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