Wednesday, June 30, 2004

My Quest to “Get Certified”

Prologue

Well finally, I have given into the trend of collecting Information Technologies (IT) and products certifications. Having previously established and managed training and certification programs for several companies, I have never felt compelled to feed into the IT certification industry, which produces paper tigers by the hundreds.

In my experience, IT clients usually have a good nose for recognizing who is faking the experience with a technology. It is the IT services providers (resellers, system integrators and recruiters) who insist on certifications in order to corroborate to their clients that the people they are sending are well qualified to do the job. Are they really?

In the last few years, most of my network storage work has come directly from IT clients. Recently, I am receiving a much higher interest from system integrators, resellers and recruiters, who are attracted by my technical pre-sales and storage architect background, due in part to the increasing IT spending environment. With larger budgets available to IT clients, they are once again starting to follow the strategy of “one tree to bark on” and “one neck to choke” instead of “extending the runway as much as possible.”

The Goal

So, I have decided to pursue the certifications in order to satisfy the request most often from recruiters and data storage distribution channel – get some certifications listed on your resume.

My goal is to have the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Storage Networking Certified Professional (SNCP) Level 2 certification completed by the end of July 2004. SNIA, in its great "vendor trade association" wisdom, decided to change the certification tracks effective June 30, 2004.

The Hiccup

Would you believe that SNIA decided to retire the SNCP certification tracks effective June 30, 2004? Looking at the SNCP Transition Policy posted at SNIA website, the new tracks just appear to be another money grab attempt by its training and certification partner to squeeze more money out of the existing certificate holders and new candidates.
  • There will be no credential or certificate awarded for passing the Level 2 and Level 3 exams after June 30, 2004.

  • Those who have passed the Level 2 or Level 3 exam in 2003 and 2004 can receive the new credentials if they also pass the SNIA Storage Network Foundations exam by December 31, 2004.
The Story

I intend to use these blogs to document and share the resources and information I collect along with my progress toward becoming SNIA SNCP certified. If you would like to share your experiences and/or have suggestions and resources, please drop me a note.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Finally, Canada has united voice in data storage!

This morning, I attended the steering committee meeting of Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Canadian Geo-forum. It is a new initiative by US based parent organization, SNIA, to bring together Canadian data storage users, service provider, vendors and IT professionals and to put forward Canadian perspective on data storage industry.

Presently, individuals from several major data storage organizations such as Sun, StorageTek, EMC and Infostream are volunteering their time to lead this initiative to a success. The steering committee has been meeting once a month since last year and has reached to a stage where administrative formalities are near completion. It is time for action!

Steering committee is starting to focus on the expectations of Canadian Data Storage Industry and type of activities it can undertake to meet these expectations in the coming years. Informally, an activity planning team was established today to lead this initiative. The team is soliciting input from various stakeholders in storage industry such as Toronto chapter of Storage Networking User Group (SNUG) and other industry professionals on their expectations and specific activities, this SNIA Canadian Geo-forum should take in the coming years.

As a member of this activity planning team, I would like to hear from you on:
  • Your challenges and needs in data storage,

  • Your expectations from this storage industry forum, and

  • Specific activities that will be of interest to you.

Some potential activities, in my opinion, are Educational Activity, Newsletter, Vendor Demonstration, Interoperability Showcase, User Case Study, Breakfast Lecture Series, Networking Meeting.

Let us know your thoughts and we will work on making them a reality … No promises, but we will give our best effort to deliver something of real value to you!

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Voice over IP (VoIP) and Outsourcing

In April 2004, I attended dinner organized by Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) Toronto Chapter. I had an interesting discussion with a senior IT executive responsible for Canadian operations of a retail franchise. As a background to the company, they have about 150 corporate stores and about 300 franchise stores in Canada and managed by North American operations based in USA. Note: All numbers are informally quoted as discussion happened over dinner casually.

Implementing VoIP without reason

The executive was discussing how his CIO based in USA forced him to go to an expensive VoIP (Voice-over-IP) phone solution that he really didn'tÂ’t believe he needed neither it was a cost effective alternative to traditional phone system he was using for about 450 voice mailboxes.

The only tangible benefits, he could identify going to VoIP system were:
  • Saving on average 4.5 cents per minute on long-distance charges between US and Canada. The call volume is not high.
  • Elimination of nominal payment they were making to a third party service provider for managing the changes with voice mailboxes. Such changes in voice mailboxes are infrequent.
The VoIP system cost billed to Canadian operations was over $300,000 with $30,000+ in annual maintenance fees.

Does this seem like a reasonable switchover from traditional phone system to VoIP?

Was there more than just cost-benefit analysis for making the decision?

Hidden Costs of Outsourcing

It appears the relationship between vendor, outsourcer and senior management of North American operations of retail franchise may have also played a part in this decision.

For example, the outsourcer in the name of standardization forced the Canadian operation to take a very expensive high-end hardware component whose functions could have easily be delivered using a reasonably priced model from the same VoIP vendor even after projecting reasonable growth for the Canadian operations.

Obviously, the outsourcer has vested interest in keeping the same hardware component everywhere, which reduces the support cost for outsourcer and maintains its profit margins.

What about the cost of acquiring and maintaining unnecessarily a high-end hardware component for the retail franchise?

Whose bottom line does this higher cost of components show up?

Do customers include such additional expense in cost-benefit analysis of retaining an outsourcer?

Is this trend of focusing on core operations and outsourcing the rest delivering the promised benefits?

Friday, June 04, 2004

Storage Management and SMI-S

Note: Too many acronyms. A list is at the bottom of this post.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend the TSNUG meeting. It was an interesting meeting listening to the developments taking place on storage management front and frank discussion among storage end-users, vendors and consultants like me. More information about me at ANDIROG SYSTEMS INC.

SMI-S Presentation and Viewpoints

John Webster of Data Mobility Group made presentation on SMI-S, the SNIA initiative in storage management. How is SMI-S going to impact the storage pain points of the end-users? His talk was a good introduction to SMI-S and present status. How big of a impact is it going to be, remains to be seen?

Some of the interesting points brought up in the meeting were:
  • In SMI-S, the storage management application is the client. The devices are the providers of management information. [Update 07/Jun/2004: Thank you Rudy for the suggestion on clarification.]
  • Several vendors have achieved the SNIA SMI-S compliance status for the product. The compliance seems to have achieved through wrapping existing vendor management functions in to SMI-S compliant module instead of developing native SMI-S compliant modules.
  • Security of SMI-S implementation was a concern. The issue of security threat to one device by poor SMI-S implementation by another device vendor or the client vendor, was raised during the meeting.
  • The issues of backward/forward compatibility of different versions of SMI-S implementations and different vendors having different level compliance in a user environment were raised. Is this going to create similar nightmare as today in SAN about the firmware version incompatibility between different Fibre Channel devices?
  • No formal conformance testing procedure for the client. Will this cause other concerns similar to security in client implementations?
  • SMI-S will allow users to administer basic functions of managing different network storage devices through a single interface such as creating LUNs, zoning, LUN masking etc.
Personal Opinion on SMI-S

Overall, my impression is that SMI-S clients are going to be "one more" administration interface for basic management of heterogeneous network storage devices similar to CA Brightstor, HP Openview, etc. Is SMI-S going to lessen the management pain of the users or add to it? Looking at the history of management clients failing to deliver on promises of "ease of management" the outlook is not as bright as SMI-S may be leading us to believe.

Acronyms
SMI-S Storage Management Initiative - Specification
SNIA Storage Networking Industry Association
TSNUG Toronto Storage Networking User Group (SNUG)