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Monday, Apr 23 2012

Meet Earl Bryant – Armada’s Sr. NetApp Storage Administrator at Sony Computer Entertainment

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Discussions about Storage, Consulting Best Practices, and Cloud!

earl1-e1335199610399-191x300Earl has worked with Armada for our client SCEA (Sony Computer Entertainment America, LLC, the makers of PlayStation) for just under a year, and he has an impressive 15+ year background in storage and network, which has given him the opportunity to work at companies such as, Honeywell Aerospace, NetApp, FormFactor Inc., and various positions in IT for the State of California. We caught up with Earl last month to discuss trending topics in storage and NetApp and how his role at Sony CEA is affected by the cloud. In his current role with Armada, he is working for SCEA on performance management and storage.

His job focuses mainly in the storage realm but he also works closely with the infrastructure department, supporting virtualization services, servers, and applications. The end user of his job is typically the application developers and other Playstation employees, but other users can be members of the public who use PlayStation Networks for their gaming needs. The seo community users utilize the storage to access their profiles, and also to save their achievements and the raw data that is stored on the servers and storage that Earl monitors. Earl’s role in storage is very impactful because it directly affects the tangible PlayStation product from a behind-the-scenes approach. Earl said that it’s satisfying seeing his storage efforts put to use out in the everyday market.

Earl is a sponge for knowledge, as he is constantly learning and soaking up what others teach him. “I am a technologist. I am interested in all types of technology; whatever works and whatever will meet the needs of the customer. I have to have different backgrounds that fit into what the customer requires.”

Having a variety of skills helps Earl to be well rounded and understand diverse backgrounds to meet the needs of the customer. He recommends the best way to keep your skills up to date is networking within the industry, and also being a part of specific online communities. According to Earl, you have to consistently be learning and challenging yourself because as in most disciplines, including IT, no one knows everything. Especially with the development of cloud services, you have to know all of your options and be able to plug new information in when needed.

For example, if someone asks you what your cloud strategy for storage is—you need to know what impacts the cloud has on our line of business.  There are different benefits of cloud services, so being informed on what effects your department is crucial to keeping current with industry trends.

A few recommendations for online education in storage are:

Some ways to refine your skills in person are. . .

  • Trade shows – check out the current trends
  • Vendor Presentations – If an outside vendor comes into to pitch a new type of storage, then go and listen and quiz them on what their competing storage plans are.  There are many innovations in the storage realm these days, and no one vendor has a “lock” on storage solutions for all possible requirements that your clients or business may have.

Since Earl works primarily with NetApp, we were curious how their management compares with that other vendors. He stated the other vendors or competitors would likely be Isilon Systems & EMC, who both make robust storage systems.  As far as manageability, he feels that Netapp provides a good tool set, and tends to use a “single-pane-of-glass” view of their storage, making regular storage management tasks easier. NetApp simplifies things and includes the largest amount of capabilities with one tool. Their hardware is also built to be the front-end to other vendor’s storage systems, thereby maintaining the client’s investment. You can use certain devices and tools from NetApp, but the actual physical disks that your data resides on can be different brands like Isilon, EMC, etc. Basically, you can snap a NetApp device in front of most other storage systems, and it can utilize that storage to read and work with it.

We asked Earl that if you automate a lot of the work that storage administrators currently perform, do they run the risk of being out of the loop?

His reply was that it’s very possible, and that is where a good set of monitoring tools come into play. Hopefully if things are automated, they are based on business rules that you had a part in constructing as a storage engineer. You should then be able to anticipate any issues since you will have had a hand in the planning the automation. The benefits of automation outweigh the risks.

The benefits of automation are:

  1. Spending less time on small tasks that could easily be automated
  2. More time to spend on more important tasks such as business improvement.

Moving on to the big hot topic of cloud computing and cloud storage:

Earl defined the cloud in a simple format, “Information, applications, and processes that you have a control of as a customer, but maintained by someone else, and kept in a different place.”

We are seeing a focus on information lifestyle management whereas information as it has changed or not changed is growing older and taking up space. Typically when your storage is filled with old data, you need to act on it. You should try to optimize your storage because if you don’t, your storage requirements will grow rapidly every day, month and year. You will begin to start doubling your need for storage—this is where a cloud can come into play.

You have storage choices:

  1. Find out what percentage of the data you manage  hasn’t been touched in 12-18 months or more.  This type of data is typically responsible for the majority of your storage utilization.  Earl suggests backing it up and storing it somewhere else, where it is safe and when you need it you can get it. However, if you need to use it, you have to call to retrieve the tape, and restore the data—which can take days. Basically using duplicate storage systems,, and increasing you cost.
  2. Companies like EMC, Amazon, and other storage and cloud services players have storage services, appliances, and software that allow themselves and your current storage environment  “to talk to each other”. Companies or individuals can save work files from all of their customers and analyze them. They can also find out if data hasn’t been accessed in a long time. Upon retrieving the results, they can free up  more production storage space for more immediate demands  by storing either aged files or certain types of unstructured data with the storage cloud service provider, based on business rules that meet the company’s needs. For personal use, you can use tools like Dropbox, Box.com, or Carbonite, so you can at least copy your data to the cloud, and always access it if your computer crashes… You can host everything in the cloud and have someone else maintain it—accessing it and using it, is the key factor.
  3. Finally, you could use a hybrid of the two by keeping everything in-house and also put old data in the cloud that hasn’t been used recently to make sure it is backed up and safe.

We asked Earl his opinion on how cloud helps companies be more efficient.

He responded, “Here is a military term that I can use to describe using more tools to do a better job . . . Force Multiplier.”

Force Multiplier can be describes as when one solider is alone out in the field. He is not as useful when he is alone by himself, but if he can communicate back to the base with a radio and update his team with what is happening, and has tools that make him more efficient he can more accurately communicate with them in real time and complete the mission. Outcome: You have now made that one solider more effective and he has now multiplied his force (abilities).

How does that relate to IT? 

When people are given more processes and tools, it increases their capabilities and makes them more efficient. In Earl’s words, “Doing more with less.”

Since businesses want to maximize their investments, and traditionally IT departments are a black hole for money, we want to provide the services and still be cost efficient. By using the cloud it can free up employees time and technology spend, and they will be able to perform more important tasks.

What advice would you give someone trying develop a cloud strategy?

Ask yourself, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

When relating this to cloud, you take the process one step at a time. First, find out what you need in a cloud provider. For example, a good cloud storage provider is www.box.net – They have a third party that maintains the servers, controls the heating and cooling of the physical equipment, and the backup of the system/files. Secondly, find out why they are good at what they do, and do your research. Thirdly, test their products and apply them.. Finally, know who you are working with. You need to be guaranteed that whomever you use will be a trustworthy cloud provider.

. . . Stay tuned for more “Meet our Team” blogs next month!