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EMC survey: Customers demand complex storage, without staff skills to support it

The demand for managed storage is higher than ever, but a shortage of trained storage management technicians still impedes implementation projects

Systems integrators and value-added resellers (VARs) in the storage market face an uphill battle to satisfy the increasingly complex customer demands with a pool of trained storage specialists that remains small, according to a customer survey from EMC Corp.

Of more than 1,100 storage architects, IT managers and other customers surveyed, about three quarters support several data-processing sites; 80% have more than 100 TB of data to manage, and 80% are in one stage or another of a storage reconsolidation process, according to Joe Milardo, director of EMC's education services, who presented the study in a talk at Storage Networking World in Orlando, Fl. yesterday.

"I try to deal with the largest enterprise clients possible. The small and  medium-sized businesses give us so much work it's not worth our time." 
Rich Baldwin
PresidentNth Generation Computing, Inc.

End-user companies are not only demanding more complex storage solutions, many are doing it without teams formally designated to outline or manage storage requirements, Milardo said. Only about half the companies surveyed have full-time storage-management groups or teams.

That lack only highlights the general shortage of storage skills among both customers and channel companies -- a shortage unlikely to end any time soon, Milardo said.

"You can't major in storage technology; you'll struggle to find a class that even talks about storage in an undergraduate college program," Milardo said.

Customers' inability to find qualified storage specialists means integrators have to fork out more money than they should to complete projects, according to Rich Baldwin, president and CEO of Nth Generation Computing, Inc. in San Diego, which distributes Hewlett-Packard Co. high-end storage products.

"The effort could be double or triple the cost of the project. It takes quite a bit of effort to explain the technology [to non-specialists], which is quite complex," Baldwin said. "That's why I try to deal with the largest enterprise clients possible. The small and medium-sized businesses give us so much work it's not worth our time," Baldwin said.

Baldwin said many equipment manufacturers provide training for both VARs and customers, but it only scratches the surface. No matter how much training is provided each project has its own level of complexity that training may not be able to address.

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"Storage projects are complex, they're multivendor, they are running different versions of software, operating systems, applications and you have to figure out that entire matrix to make a solution work," Baldwin said.

According to Milardo, "A lot of us in the storage vendor training business are not addressing the fundamental skills, the fundamental concepts of iSCSI and those kinds of things."

Milardo also said it's in the best interest of IT integrators to try to find ways to develop and specialize their human resources to optimize the investment they make in the storage infrastructure.

Jered Floyd, vice president of development and co-founder of Permabit Inc., a software developer that works with VARs, OEMs and others to develop storage solutions, said while there are limited skills at end-customer shops, many integrators can still find opportunities in a multisite, multivendor environment.

"Systems integrators can go in and say, 'Hey by deploying this solution we can reduce your enterprise-wide TCO by an enormous amount because you're not going to have 20 different people maintaining 20 different storage systems, each of which have this unused space on them, and different agreements with different vendors.' That's a real opportunity," Floyd said.

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