Closing the Storage Skills Gap

  • Closing the Storage Skills Gap

Alok Shrivastava began his IT career 25 years ago at one of Asia's largest data centers. Filling one hallway were 16 hulking blue DASD subsystems with a combined capacity of 40 gigabytes. Allocating that capacity to various applications was a laborious manual task, not a simple automated one. And disaster recovery meant making tape-reel copies.

Today, 2,048 gigabytes will rest gently in one's hand, and many information management and protection processes have completely transformed.

But one thing hasn't changed. Organizations still need people on staff who know what they are doing.

Unfortunately, demand for information storage and management (ISM) expertise has outpaced the number of people trained in it. Shrivastava, now senior director of EMC Education Services, says that many organizations still don't grasp how essential strong ISM skills are to them. "Appreciation for storage technology is still pretty low," he says.

That's why EMC is raising ISM awareness and promoting education to create more storage experts around the globe.

Three years ago, for example, EMC Education Services designed and started offering an ISM open curriculum to employees, partners, customers, IT consultants, and universities. It was also the beginning of the EMC Academic Alliance.

Wiley Publishing and EMC published the most comprehensive reference book ever written on the subject of data storage, "Information Storage and Management."

At more than 300 universities worldwide, an estimated 14,000 students have completed the ISM program. Another 4,000 are now participating in the current semester. EMC has issued 45,000 certifications through its EMC Proven Professional Certification Program, including 9,800 ISM-specific certifications.

But the knowledge gap is still widening.


EMC began focusing hard on the storage skills gap four years ago, when it was having trouble finding well-trained storage professionals to hire. Often, EMC ended up hiringthen trainingpeople whose backgrounds were in other IT specialties, such as databases, operating systems, or network administration.

EMC surveyed its customers and discovered that they, too, were struggling with the same storage-skill shortages.

Nor could EMC find even one university, anywhere in the world, that was offering an educational track dedicated expressly to ISM. Schools were teaching storage concepts, of course, but only as a section of their broader-scope computer science courses. There weren't even any textbooks in print comprehensively covering the complete range of ISM principles and technologies used by real-life organizations.

A market leader educates. Thus, EMC would address the problem.

First, EMC Education Services designed a comprehensive ISM curriculum centered on technology principles, not vendor-specific products. A small Education Services team began reaching out to top-tier universities, encouraging them to adopt this open curriculum through the EMC Academic Alliance (EAA) program.

At the same time, EMC was forging partnerships with major independent training organizations that serve IT professionals.

Importantly, in 2006, EMC also added the ISM curriculum to its EMC Proven Professional Certification Program for customers, employees, and partners.

Most recently, EMC created "Information Storage and Management," the only book in print that provides a beginning-to-end examination of ISM. Shrivastava and G. Somasundaram, EMC education services director, co-edited the book, which coalesces the knowledge of 40 EMC experts in all. It serves wonderfully as a reference text for a broad range of information storage and management technologies.

The book is now available around the world through major retailers such as Wiley Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders. A Chinese translation is slated to appear by the end of 2009, and the book will be released later in other languages as well. Such widespread availability will help "Information Storage and Management" touch parts of the globe that are far from EMC or its partners' learning centers.

"The idea is to extend the book outward to every part of the world," Somasundaram says. "We are partnering with many external organizations as well; two or three can't solve this problem all by themselves."


The efforts have been well received. ISM classes held at EMC and at offsite training centers are attracting more than 100 employees, partners, and customers every week, Alok estimates, with 55 additional customers typically participating online.

Matthew Imel is the global storage management-NAS and archive storage architect for Eli Lilly and Company. He received his EMC Proven Professional Certification in December 2008 and is one of many customers using EMC's help to train storage teams.

Eli Lilly must manage more than a petabyte of data at present. Imel says that like his employer, all companies are challenged with managing rapid information growth and fast-changing technology in ever-more efficient ways. "Today, those of us working in IT must have a deeper and broader skill set," he says. "Eli Lilly knows this, and it offers us the right opportunities to train as new technologies arise."

Eli Lilly, headquartered in Indianapolis, looks to EMC to help it stay on top of trends including virtualization and deduplication, Imel says. And because EMC offers these classes at its local Indianapolis field office, they are convenient and economical.


Globally, more and more universities are using EMC's open curriculum, particularly in India. Manoj Chugh, president of EMC India and SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and director of global accounts for APJ, says in India, where digital information is growing at 6o percent a year, an acute gap exists between storage-expertise supply and demand. EMC India has, therefore, seen an "overwhelming response" to its EMC Academic Alliance overtures.

Since EMC began recruiting Indian universities in 2006, storage-curriculum enrollment has grown to more than 150 institutions and 8,500 students. A flood of universities have sought to partner with EMC, but EMC has limited participation to the nation's top schools.

One is the NMAM Institute of Technology in Karnataka State, India, which added the ISM curriculum in 2008. Vice Principal Dr. Niranjan Narayan Chiplunkar reports that 12 students were ISM certified that year, 10 more were certified in 2009, and seven are now working on certification.

The EMC ISM reference book actually helps attract enrollees: "When students examine the contents of that book, they fall in love with the topic," Dr. Chiplunkar says.

EMC India has launched auxiliary academic programs as well. One involves EMC mentors visiting member universities. And, in the Student Ambassador Program, students become liaisons between their schools and EMC.

Demand for the graduates is strong. "Indian engineers are traditionally well-trained in computer architecture, operating systems, applications, and databases," Chugh says. "Information storage and management represent the missing fifth pillar that EMC took a lead role in fulfilling. I have no doubt that over the next few years, engineers trained through the EMC Academic Alliance will fill the hallowed portals of the world's best organizations."

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