Get A Degree – Fast!

SNIA gets into the education business

It’s back to school time for the kids, and I am feeling the itch myself to go after one of those professional degrees from “fully accredited” on-line institutions like SPAM U. To be honest, I really like the sales pitch: become the envy of your peers, secure higher-paying jobs, gain management respect. Yes, they all have a distinct appeal.

So does SNIA U. It seems that The Storage Networking Industry Association (The SNIA) has finally found a productive use for the data center gifted to it (as a tax write-off?) by Compaq a few years ago. They are going into the education business.

Analyst and long-time industry insider Barb Goldwurm recently gave The SNIA’s sheepskin initiative a glowing recommendation. She says that SNIA U (actually, she uses the official-if-rather-Trekkie name, The SNIA Education Continuum) will provide an alternative to the proprietary gear-oriented training available from vendors. It will provide new lessons that go above and beyond the technical foo, targeted mainly at HBA and switch designers, that have been offered to date by The SNIA.

To give the program credibility, they have even co-opted the lingo of Cisco Systems and Microsoft, offering graduates a new credential called The SNIA Certified Storage Networking Expert (SCSN-E). Plop down a bunch of bucks and go to The SNIA’s Colorado data center, sit for training, take a test, and you too can be “certified.” This will distinguish you from all the non-certified droids mucking about with storage technology today.

While I am not down on training, per se, I wonder why Goldwurm is all aglow over The SNIA’s offering. How is an industry association’s training and certification program any less myopic or doctrinaire than are the training and certification programs of its member vendors?

The very name of The SNIA, with its emphasis on Storage Networking, would seem to be a limiting factor in terms of training validity. No storage today is actually networked (or maybe all of it is, since file servers with direct-attached storage are usually accessed across a LAN). We have server-attached storage (DAS), thin-server-attached storage (NAS), and switched-server-attached storage (Fibre Channel Fabrics), and of these, DAS is the predominant topology. Even iSCSI doesn’t get us to true storage networking: it is simply the operation of SCSI architecture (arguably a channel protocol) as an application across a network. So, immediately, we have confused and propagandized the student population.

Goldwurm underscores that The SNIA’s SCSN-E program will emphasize “hands-on” work building a SAN (she repeats this expression several times in a recent article). Apparently, all of the independent trainers out there are deficient in this respect. They don’t cart around a bunch of gear from one hotel conference room to the next to enable students to get the real-life experience of bruising knuckles while fitting components in a rack, risking skin poisoning while writing component addresses on the backs of their hands with ink pens, and finally programming switches to create zones designated by one initiator/one target device pairings. Instead, these independent trainers (let’s call them The SNIA Continuum wannabes) provide only PowerPoint decks, lectures from experience, and maybe some video footage, all of which imparts to their students a merely vicarious expertise.

How The SNIA’s approach is superior to vendor-based training with respect to hands-on also eludes me. The SNIA’s training will use vendor-supplied gear, I would think. In the interest of political neutrality, they will strive to mix it up (but not so as to run afoul of interoperability limitations). Frankly, if I were setting up a fabric today, I would take my “hands on” training from the guys who are selling me my equipment: generic set-up instructions are much less valuable than product-specific procedures. Ask anyone who has ever tried to assemble a bicycle on Christmas Eve using instructions that cover several models generally but not the bike you bought your kid specifically.

Perhaps most important is the fact that good storage training needs to include a healthy dose of skepticism. People need to be trained to be good consumers who can sift through tons of vendor marketecture and figure out which storage topologies and components actually meet the needs of their applications. Where is the training to give consumers a critical view? How many case studies will be presented in The SNIA’s coursework that go to “vendor lies and the lying liars who tell them”? How much attention will be paid to fundamental flaws in the logic behind “SANs everywhere” or “Fibre Channel for Small to Medium Sized Enterprises”? Does anyone honestly believe they will get that level of training from The SNIA? (In fairness, at least one training provider for SNIA insists that he has some of this “controversial” subject matter in his courseware. Thus far, he says, no one has asked him to pull the content.)

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that education and training are good things. I have been a trainer for over two decades and have a framed award on my wall from the American Management Association for a video-based instructional course I once developed on the subject of Training the Trainer. I believe in the work of Malcolm Knowles, the father of adult education, and I have strong credentials in instructional systems design (ISD) methodology. Heck, I even wrote a book on Automated Training Development Systems a few years before distance learning and e-learning became as commonplace as they are today. (You might still be able to pick up a used copy on

From all of this background, I have to say that respect for adult learners requires an appreciation of their needs not only for technical/procedural knowledge and skills, but also for higher-order intellectual development: enhanced discrimination, logical analysis, and strategic thinking. Great training is discriminated from lousy training based on its fit with real adult-learning requirements.

The bottom line is that storage managers need more than instruction on how to plug Cable X from device Y into switch port Z. They need to know why one storage topology might deliver better business value than another and how to demonstrate this value proposition realistically and in terms and language that bean counters understand. They need to know why they should preserve at least one rack of smaller drives (faster boot) when re-driving an array with the newest and most capacious drives. They need to know why SANs are not a solution to every storage problem, or even most problems. They need to know why GigE with Jumbo Frames is still the best interconnect for streaming backups to tape and that FC SANs do not deliver “wire speeds” in actual deployment in many configurations. Heck, they need to know how much interconnect bandwidth they actually need for the transaction levels that their applications currently present.

And they need to know why they shouldn’t buy into just any certification program offered by just any industry association, regardless of the number of “u’s” in Continuum.

There, I said it. Tell me what you think.

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.