Certifications are a slippery slope in any computer discipline and storage is no exception. However, as more small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) start down the networked storage path, with storage talent in short supply, having certified technicians on staff can give you an edge in explaining the technology, closing the sale and helping keep customers for life. But this only works if your technicians possess the right storage certifications.
An obvious starting point for storage certifications involves the storage arrays you resell. Most major storage array vendors -- EMC, HDS, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and NetApp -- offer storage certification programs, though the cost, availability and customer recognition of these vary.
EMC offers one of the broader, more refined training programs with a number of certification paths available. At the most basic level, EMC offers a free online foundations course for its CLARiiON storage arrays, covering most of what is required for a technician to configure and install the arrays.
If you're looking beyond just the initial sale and install, wanting to expand service offerings, EMC also offers certifications such as Storage Technologist, Storage Administrator and Implementation Engineer, each of which enhances your credibility when proposing new or future customer storage configurations.
One intangible benefit of obtaining an EMC Proven Professional certification is the weight it carries in the minds of some users. Steve Olson, IT manager with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, finds an EMC Certification as one of the more valuable storage certifications in the market, and he views it as credible when vendors demonstrate that their staff members possess them.
The downside with certifications like those from EMC is the higher price tag that often accompanies their storage arrays. Even for Olson, EMC's certification was not enough to keep him from straying from the EMC plantation. He choose a more economical Pillar Data Systems Axiom storage system because the company accepts other storage vendor's certifications and enhances them with their own onsite training.
Another storage vendor, EqualLogic Inc. keeps its storage prices low and still satisfies customer desires for storage certifications. EqualLogic offers free certification programs on its iSCSI storage arrays to VARs who possess industry or vertical expertise and wish to resell.
Another certification that could help VARs establish credibility in the mind of some users is the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) certification, which is not storage vendor specific. SNIA is collaborating with some of the major storage vendors to ensure that passing SNIA's first-level test, the SNIA Storage Network Foundations test, satisfies the basic criteria for any vendor's storage certification. This could open the door for you to provide support for more storage vendors' arrays, though at this point only Cisco, EMC, HDS and HP participate in this initiative.
Storage network switch certification is the final certification to consider. The importance of this certification will vary according to the size of the SMBs you support. If you're supporting large-enterprise customers, you're more likely to need technicians with networking certifications offered by companies like Brocade Communication Systems or Cisco Systems.
These are needed in customer environments that use virtual SANs or geographically dispersed SANs. In these circumstances these certifications become almost a prerequisite if you hope to keep customers as clients for long periods of time due to the expertise and complexity required to manage them.
About the author: Jerome Wendt is an independent writer and analyst specializing in the field of open systems storage and storage area networks. He has managed storage for small and large organizations in this capacity.