Lots of my IT infrastructure management clients are talking about how the advent of Ethernet/IP and virtualization is changing the roles of storage, server, and network administrators. The evolution of the storage role in particular in enterprise IT organizations has been a topic of particular interest to me for a while: I definitely remember thinking about this as iSCSI and Cisco came on the scene a few years back, but the question of integration of storage, server, network, and application management areas is as old as IT.
Back in 2005, I wrote a column in Storage magazine, asking Who Watches the SAN? Although there were (and still are) reasons one might consider handing SAN management over to the network team, such as the use of iSCSI, Cisco FC, or (soon) FCoE, I concluded that many network teams just aren’t ready to take on SAN management. Storage is different – extremely sensitive to latency and outages and burdened with interconnect concepts that are similar, but not identical, to their network cousins. So most people are better off leaving SAN management in the hands of storage people, regardless of whether their SAN is made up of FC or iSCSI.
The Virtual Data Center
Things are changing, however. The modern data center is evolving to virtualize all three major IT infrastructure components: Servers, storage, and networks. Over the last year or so, we’ve seen the first fully-virtual infrastructure built, with all three areas combined in a single box, soup-to-nuts. Consider a VMware ESX server with virtual servers talking over virtual networks to a virtual storage array from FalconStor or LeftHand – it’s an entire data center in a box!
Server admins are normally tasked with everything “in the box”, including VMFS and virtual network connectivity, just as they always had to manage volume managers and path management software back in the “physical server” world. I doubt this will change. So we could see not just storage but network folks excluded entirely from the next-generation virtual datacenter!
This doesn’t have to be how things end up, though. I strongly believe that network and storage pros have critical insight into their areas, and cutting them out would be a tragic loss akin to what happened when open systems folks decided not to pay attention to the lessons of the mainframe generation. We would effectively repeat a decade of experience and learning that could, with minor modifications, be brought right into the modern world.
There are three things to do:
- Re-combine the stovepipe IT infrastructure organizations (server, storage, network) into a single management organization with specialists in these areas and others like virtualization and cloud computing.
- Spend the time and money to cross-train everyone to re-apply their experience and skills in this new world. Storage folks, for example, must know a good bit about server virtualization or their skills will have much less value!
- Bring the mainframe, security, and records management folks to the party, too! They all have essential insights, and a failure to give them a seat at the table would be a critical loss.
Database and Applications
Then there are the DBAs and IT application folks. These teams have always been held at arms-length in the open systems world, and much closer on the mainframe side (especially the database people!) I think there has been a feeling that there were enough interests at the IT infrastructure planning meetings already without mixing them in as well! The current response is a service-based approach, where IT infrastructure adds an analyst role to develop SLAs and standard service offerings and act as a liaison between ITI and IT Apps.
This is probably enough for a conventional system, but there are changes here as well. Virtual appliances can step right into the apps arena, and the database/storage hybrid devices from Oracle/HP, Netezza, and the rest tromp right through the DBA world. Then there are the “webby dubby” (Web 2.0) storage services/devices like Amazon S3, Nirvanix, and EMC Atmos to consider.
I think we’re seeing another serious change to the status quo: Right after the data center is virtualized and IT infrastructure is recombined, applications themselves will fundamentally transform, demanding a merger of the current IT infrastructure and IT applications groups. This could all come within five years, or it could be delayed or diverted by organizational infighting and intransigence. It will be very interesting to see how it plays out!