Interview with a Storage Architect…
I thought it would be worth while doing something a little bit different on the blog and this time I reached out to a friend of mine (based in the US) who has been in the storage industry for more years than I’ve been working. We talk about his role and the evolution he is seeing.
A good guy to work with and one who inspired me to learn a lot more over the years (you know who you are !!)
Hope you enjoy the dialogue below.
- I hope you didn’t come out of education wanting to be a storage guy. If you did that’s fine too – so what made you choose the role you’re in today and what do you love/hate about your job as it stands?
Ha ha.. Wow, there sure is a lot of respect being thrown my way as a lowly ‘storage guy’!
Joking aside, I graduated from college in a marketing role and had every intention of making a fortune in sales. Fortunately for me, I realized rather early on that I had a passion for the technical and an aptitude that matched the passion. As a result, I was able to transition over to the other side of the fence, gain training and knowledge in the craft, and move forward down a new career path. The rest is history as they say. I didn’t choose my roles over the years as they generally chose me. I have been very blessed, and lucky, that things have continued to work out as they have thus far. I love all the technical aspects of my profession without question, but I’m well known for my disdain of the political nature of the corporate world. Hence… I tend to stay off the radar and just make things happen behind the scenes. That tends to be the role I embrace most. I’ll gladly let others bask in the glory as long as my objectives are achieved along the way…. and as long as my pay check is satisfying.
- Silos of I.T. are sometimes frustrating in a large organisation. How do you ensure you break down barriers and communicate with your peers to understand their requirements?
That is a problem regardless of company size and has more to do with the type of management in place. It just happens that the sample size is much larger in a big organization, so it seems like communications is worse. The reality is that the percentage is usually the same when you break it down. I’m a rather vocal individual and I’m unafraid to speak up when I feel it’s necessary. I believe in tackling an issue head on, and generally waste no time in taking action. I’ve had to learn to be more patient over the years without altering my approach to eliminating problems as my primary motivation. It can be challenging at times, as people can mistake assertiveness negatively. I’ve learned to do a better job of explaining my points and listening to others’ ideas. Early in my career, this was often inhibiting to my progression with business skills. Obviously, communications are crucial to any success.
- Has your role evolved in the last year? If it has or not what do you think would make you a better data center architect and ensure you have more of a full stack perspective instead of a narrow storage centric view?
My role is always evolving, sometimes by my own choice. I think it’s necessary for any professional to embrace change and look at it as opportunity. Many times, I found that change I was initially against was actually opportunity I didn’t see in the beginning. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes change is bad and you do what you can to avoid it. Depending on the situation, you will sometimes be in a position to influence those who can alter bad decisions from happening, and that’s a great position to be in. Other times, you need to be able to watch the train hit the wall with the hope that the end result puts you back on the right track and you learn from it. It’s not always easy being a problem solver or analytical thinker in a corporate world. I’ve spent the past 26 years burying myself in many disciplines from networking, platforms, security, storage and integration. Therefore, I don’t look at myself as solely a storage architect because I’m still heavily involved in those other areas indirectly. Due to that luxury, my job has afforded me the ability to stay as broad as I am at times. I attribute that to allowing me to be a better infrastructure architect in general. Over time, this exposure has benefited me where more specialized engineers or technicians would have challenges. As a result, I believe I see the big picture much better than most who are more specialized.
- How do storage decisions get made at such a large company and do you think there are ways to improve the current habits and procurement patterns of upper management and other decision makers?
I can only speak to the decision making at my current employer because I think it comes down to the company culture more than anything. There are several areas that could use improvement in how IT decisions are made, as well as how procurement is handled. The biggest problem I experience is the lack of process that takes place with regards to strategic initiatives or technologies. There is a level of management that will often make decisions on technology or strategy without engaging the subject matter experts (SMEs) early on. That is a major challenge and often leads to those bad decisions/changes that I touched on earlier. As with any major initiative, it is crucial that management engage the SMEs that are being paid to do that job, as well as listen to them while weighing their decisions. I know that it is difficult in today’s world with the rapid nature of change for management to take the additional steps necessary for this process to happen, and the pressure to move quickly is often their excuse to sometimes side step that process, but it’s a mistake regardless. The cost of ignoring this process in the long run will almost always be much worse than the time spent properly vetting the decision. So, a proper policy on strategy and technology decision making that is vetted through the respective SMEs is crucial. As far as procurement, a more streamlined system that is integrated with assets would be a welcome relief in my place of employment.
- Cloud has been mentioned everywhere but as a storage expert, what does it mean to you and what steps are you or your company taking to stay relevant?
Cloud is a term that is often misunderstood. From my perspective, cloud is very broad and depends on what is being discussed. From a high level, we’re really talking about services oriented architecture and hosted services. The goal being to move away from a fixed cost model. Business is business, so I only want to pay for what I consume. If I can do that by allowing a vendor to provide my services, eliminate the overhead of managing and maintaining assets, and I pay for only what I use, then fantastic! If I can position an infrastructure in house that can drive up my utilization levels where I’m getting more for my money, while my customers are charged back for what they consume, then fantastic! If it’s a combination of both of the above and the end result is I’m more efficient and saving money, then fantastic! From a more granular perspective, cloud computing, storage, etc. is generally offsite (hosted) systems either by a vendor or organization. If we’re talking on-site and offsite combined, you’re generally talking hybrid cloud. We are approaching all these avenues currently and looking to take advantage where it makes sense. That last sentence carries a lot of weight because, contrary to some people’s opinions, not everything makes sense in the cloud. There are many things to consider with costs, security and performance being among the most crucial of those. We are in the midst of all that now, and my biggest challenge is making sure that management understands ALL the facts.
- If you could try storage solutions from another vendor, be they a start-up or a major leader, would you or not and why?
I’m always open to multiple vendors as I’m technology agnostic. My primary driver is if it makes the situation better, saves money and accomplishes the objectives, then I’m open to it. However, I’m not going to change technologies or vendors if there is no true business benefit at the end of the day. If we were to change based on market leaders or who’s got the highest industry rating in a given field at any given time, then we’d be changing technologies too frequently and spending more than we have to. As long as the solutions you have in place are among the top offerings, working well, and performing as designed, then it’s hard to make a change for the sake of making a change. It comes down to fiscal responsibility and what’s best for the business.
- Where do you see yourself in another 5 years from now and how do you aim to stay relevant as a storage practitioner?
I see myself in a more strategic role in five years. As I mentioned earlier, storage is only one facet of what I actually do and it’s more about data, analytics and application integrations these days. I think that looking at the enterprise and seeing the big picture will always allow me to stay relevant. If not, then I’ll have to consider a new career I guess. LOL
- LUNS, volumes and provisioning. Terms associated with a storage guy. Do you love this part of your job and is it what makes you tick or would you prefer to automate and seek tools and services to help you in your day job?
Honestly, I’ve pretty much offloaded a ton of the day to day stuff years ago. The work I’m doing has forced me to approach the strategic, as well as the reactive (mgmt), and I’ve had to delegate and train staff. Automation and logic are always drivers in our craft and we need to embrace them. I’ve implemented as much logic as possible into my area and I’m always looking for more ways to leverage that strategy. Ultimately, I see myself sitting on a beach with my Margarita as my self-sufficient environment is humming away, supported by my trainees and monitored by my systems which alert my smart devices. Hey, one can always dream, right?
Thanks to my friend for giving up his time to answer these questions. I hope you found it useful and feel free to comment or tweet me back on your thoughts.