Important Skills that Matter…
In a moment, we’ll get to the tough storage interview questions.
And as a bonus, we’re going to deep dive into 3 secret storage engineer skills.
Here’s why you should stick around until the end…
Because it takes more than technical skills to do the job right.
Imagine this – behind every successful business is data, lots of data.
And behind all that data are massive amounts of storage in various formats and configurations.
Guess who’s behind the technical scene making sure all the data crunching is going on without any interruptions – THAT’S RIGHT – storage engineers (A.K.A. SAN Engineer)!
The SAN Engineer Interview questions listed above are taken from my years of related real-life examples working as and with storage engineers.
Feel free to add them to your list of technical questions to fill in the gaps…
If that’s all you came for – thanks for the visit.
Time to move on to the really good stuff…
Storage Engineer (Secrets)
In this lesson, let’s go over 3 critical skills successful companies count on their storage engineers to do right.
To help you better understand, we’ll break each job skill down for you.
As promised, I’ve already given you the tough storage engineer interview questions – get ready for the real secrets of success…
First off, let me give KUDOS to all the hard-working storage engineers across the world because there are a lot of jobs they handle daily that nobody else can do.
Here’s a breakdown of the skill sets we’ll cover in this lesson:
- Designing, Building & Supporting Storage Solutions (Big and Small)
- Data Storage Capacity Planning (Big and Small)
- Monitoring Data Storage Systems (Big and Small)
Alright, are you ready to dive into the life of a SAN engineer?
1. Designing, Building & Supporting Data Storage Solutions
Whether a business is operating on spinning disks, solid-state (SSD), or flash, someone has to design and build the storage infrastructure (and yes, let’s not forget storage provisioned in the cloud).
Every server from the smallest VM or Docker container that’s hosting a tiny web application up to and including the most massive database needs storage to exist.
And without someone with the right skills managing the hardware and software properly, you can bet there are painful problems with poor performance, data loss, and constant crashes…
Don’t forget to take notes or save this page as a shortcut so you can come back over and over until this lesson sinks in!
Listen, I’ve worked in this world since 1996, and now is the best time to take action if you’re thinking about becoming a SAN engineer.
Because storage engineers with the right skill are in urgent demand because Big Data is always growing.
And this urgent need brings us to the most crucial point of this lesson.
RIGHT NOW businesses everywhere are looking for highly skilled and experience storage engineers who can dynamically adjust and tweak gigabytes, luns, aggregates, and flash pools around with surgical precision without impacting business services.
And get this.
They will pay a premium to hire the best SAN engineers!
You see, a quality storage solution is not just about buying the newest storage technology to replace the old, oversubscribed, poorly designed, and abused storage system; it’s about understanding the need and asking the right questions before meeting with any storage vendor.
Why have a meeting if nobody knows what storage problems or challenges need to be solved?
This unfortunately is where many businesses go wrong. The CTO normally meets with vendors at a conference, agrees to buy something shiny, and then the storage engineer tries to make it fit.
And this is why many of the storage infrastructures I’ve seen over my 20+ years are just patched together storage solutions from multiple vendors – a bit of EMC, some NetApp, and now Pure because flash is the buzz that solves all the bad practices from the past.
Also, if you’re a VMware shop let’s not forget VSAN because I bet someone on the shop floor is already building a VSAN whether it’s approved or not.
How Google handles storage…
Look, I could be way off but here’s what I look for when I interview storage engineers.
The skillset of a solid storage engineer is someone who can adapt to the environment both via their skills and their mindset.
But the problem I’ve had filling these criteria is because storage engineers, like network engineers, are religious.
Here’s what I mean…
Many storage engineers have become overly zealous about brands such as Pure or Cisco and have lost their objectivity…
So unless the plan for your shop is to convert every gigabyte of storage to Pure, or every network switch to Cisco, then I avoid hiring brand zealots.
On VMinstall, I always tell it like it is and teach my readers to keep an open mind – learn to be objective and (agnostic).
Being objective and having an open mind allows for more career opportunities, as well as possible involvement in cool or challenging projects that only include people who can think outside the box.
Nothing against Pure or Cisco, just making a point!
The same could be said about EMC or HP.
I know this is touchy ground but it needs to be said out loud! Don’t be religious about brands or technologies because they can change 6 months from now when your CIO or CTO goes to their next Tech conference.
Yes, you read that right…
It’s not uncommon to see a storage engineer job posted on Indeed with skill requirements for 5 – 6 storage brands. Click here to take a look for yourself.
So having a broad data storage skill set is essential for your career success.
But you also need to be able to think objectively and constructively about what you have to work with because sometimes you’ll have to turn lemons into lemonade.
Think about this example.
What if you’re hired by a big brand, exciting right?
But on your first day, you find out they’re recovering from a major storage disaster that has been going on for several weeks.
Then you learn you have just replaced the guy or gal who quit or was fired over the crash – now what?
Think I’m exaggerating? I’m not.
Learn to design, build and support all types and brands of storage solutions.
And don’t get hung up on one flavor of storage unless you plan to become an SME for a brand – but even then knowing the good and bad about the competition is vital for an SME.
Good SAN engineers in my book focus on great services, even in the worst storage environments.
And believe me when I say there are some incredible storage messes behind many of the hottest brands.
The secret to designing a solid storage solution is to ask relevant questions:
- What will the application be used for?
- How many users will the application host?
- Who are the users of the application?
- How fast will the data grow?
- Is there any special requirement for PII data?
- Are there any special security requirements?
- What is the expected SLA of the application?
- Is there a budget for storage?
By defining a scope upfront, you’ll “hopefully” avoid problems and rework later.
If there are any red flags or if the existing storage infrastructure cannot meet the requirements of the project, then raise your concerns before moving forward.
Always try to avoid designing and building a data storage solution that will not work long-term.
All too often short-term solutions become long-term problems that storage engineers have to babysit.
Now let’s move on to the next topic…
2. Data Storage Capacity Planning
Every storage Rock Star I’ve worked with tracks capacity trends for daily, weekly, and monthly usage.
Outages at Amazon don’t happen because storage fills up and crashes their servers.
This is why storage capacity planning is an important skill when designing scalable storage solutions for big eCommerce databases.
But you know something?
Even small business expects the same careful planning.
Do you agree data is important?
OK, then if data is so important why do IT shops operate on the premise where DBAs send an email to storage admins with a request for “x” GBs of storage?
And a few minutes later the response email says, “Done”.
Then 3 months down the road all hell is breaking loose because the storage admin did not ask any questions about what the storage was going to be used?
And now a new web service that the company’s sales and marketing team have been planning a grand opening for months is showing a 500 server unavailable error because the database can’t keep up with all the hits the marketing campaign has generated.
Am I getting through to you?
These are real experiences I am sharing.
The world needs storage engineers who can think ahead and who are not just brand evangelists. Technical thinkers who can also work with other teams to unravel chaos.
Capacity planning is a key skillset for a storage engineer and anyone desiring to become a storage engineer should spend a lot of time testing and developing skills with tools and scripts that can help generate useful trend reports.
Once a storage capacity problem is happening it’s too late to undo poor planning…
Now let look at the 3rd skill set.
3. Monitoring Data Storage Systems
I saved the best for last.
All joking aside, storage monitoring has to be the most challenging monitoring of all infrastructure technologies.
Because most storage manufactures have their own storage tools, which are not cheap so often storage engineers are fending for themselves with freeware, trialware or homemade scripts.
Albeit storage vendors have gotten better over the years adding tools and dashboards, however, there are still gaps between brands that a good storage engineer will need to plug.
This is why, once again, I suggest developing the skills now for monitoring capacity and performance on big and small storage systems.
I know monitoring storage sounds easy, but I’ve seen storage systems fail unexpectedly and take weeks to restore all services back to normal.
Remember, at any time, and without any warning, a drive, controller, or SFP can fail.
Or firmware can get buggy, heck any number of hardware or software issues can happen that cause storage across multiple services to flip out.
Monitoring may not stop a failure but it’s better to know a drive has failed so it can be replaced before a second and third drive fails and you only have 2 spares. Or getting an alert that an SFP has failed, before the redundant path fails, too.
Sorry if this is not a step by step list of skills a good storage engineer should have, but if you’re able to see the big picture I have just painted for you, and if you’re able to wrap your head around why storage engineer is important, then you get the value this lesson is designed to create.
Just like every other lesson I have written about on VMinstall, my goal is to forge a “Think Service First” mindset…
Does this sound like you?
Let’s Wrap Up…
There’s a lot to be said about storage engineers we didn’t cover and even more about all the different data storage technologies now available.
But that said, I can’t stress enough how BIG the 3 skillsets we covered are for your success.
- Learn to design, build and support all types of storage. Don’t get hung up on one brand.
- Develop skills and learn techniques for capacity management (Writing your own scripts).
- Test and evaluate all storage monitoring solutions until you find the right one for your use case.
Probably one of the most practical storage engineer skills is to never let a disk fill up and crash a system!
Make sure you emphasize this point in your storage job interview.
Still, want more?