What’s the difference between a Storage Engineer and a Storage Administrator?

During my recent job search a recruiter asked me if there was a difference between a Storage Administrator and a Storage Engineer. He had no idea. I was initially a bit surprised at the question, as I’ve always assumed that it was widely accepted that an engineer is more involved in the architecture of systems whereas an administrator is responsible for managing them.  While his question was about Storage, it applies to many different disciplines in the IT industry as both the Administrator and Engineer titles are routinely appended to “System”, “Network”, “Database”, etc.  Many companies use the terms completely interchangeably and many storage professionals perform both roles. In my experience HR Departments generally label all technical IT employees as “Analysts”, no matter which discipline you specialize in.

From my own personal perspective, I present the following definitions:

Storage Engineer: A person who uses a disciplined, methodical approach to the design, realization, technical management, operation, and life-cycle management of a storage environment.

Storage Administrator: A person who is responsible for the daily upkeep, technical configuration, support, and reliable operation of a storage environment.

To all of my recruiter friends and associates, please think of the System Engineer as the person who is responsible for laying the foundation and ensuring that it is implemented properly.  Afterwards, the Administrator is responsible for carrying out the daily routines and supporting the vision of the engineer.

Does one title outrank the other? No. In my opinion they’d be equal. As I mentioned before HR departments generally don’t distinguish between the two and both usually are in the same pay grade, and the overlap of responsibilities is such that many people perform the duties of both regardless if their title is one or the other. In my experience performing both roles at multiple companies, A Storage Engineer at any given company is given a problem and in a nutshell their job is to find the best solution for it. What is the normal process for finding the best solution?  The Engineer researches and develops the best possible combinations of network, compute, and storage resources along with all the required software features and functionality after investigating a multitude of different vendors and technologies.  Storage industry trends and new technologies are usually researched as well. Following that research, they finally determine the best fit based on the cost, the specific business use case, expansion and scalability, performance testing in a lab or onsite with a proof of concept, all while taking into account the ease of administration and supportability of the hardware and software from both a vendor and internal admin standpoint. A Storage Administrator is generally heavily involved in this decision-making process as they will be responsible for the tuning of the environment to optimize the performance and reliability to the customer, as a result their opinion during the research phase is crucial.  Administrator feedback based on job experience is critical in the research and testing phase across the board, it’s simply not something that’s taught in a book or degree program.
With the considerable overlap between the two jobs in most companies, it’s not surprising they are used so interchangeably and that there is general market confusion about the difference. A company isn’t going to hire a group of storage administrators to simply sit at a desk and monitor a group of storage arrays, they will be required to understand the process of building a complex storage environment and how it fits in to the specific business environment. Engineering and administering a Petabyte-scale global storage environment is very complex no matter which title you’re given. A seasoned Storage Administrator or Storage Engineer should both be up to the task, regardless of how you define their roles. At the end of the day, I’m proud to be a SeniorSANStorageAnalystAdminEngineerSpecialist professional. 🙂

Did I get any of this wrong?  Share your feedback with me in the comments section.

6 thoughts on “What’s the difference between a Storage Engineer and a Storage Administrator?”

  1. Most “storage engineers” are usually professional service guys from storage equipment manufacturers e.g Netapp or EMC , while “storage Admins” are the clients staff .. I think the “storage ” jobs are being replaced by “cloud” or “devops” jobs ..

  2. what job role should traditional storage administrators or engineers evolve/reskill to with cloud storage?

    1. For the most part, experienced storage professionals can learn quickly and transfer their existing skill sets in order to meet the needs of an organization, be it cloud or any other emerging technology. It would be helpful to brush up on server and storage virtualization and automation if there’s less exposure in those areas. Depending on the project, it may also be helpful to have experience with analytics and open source tools/languages. Experience is always the best teacher, so storage professionals that are involved with a business initiative for cloud integration will likely develop and learn the required skills on the job. If that’s not possible, I’d advise enrolling in online courses to establish the foundation of knowledge necessary to take on a cloud project, there are many options available.

  3. in my mid-size enterprise, the design is made by an IT architect helped by the vendor (storage engineers) in agreement with the system administrators/engineers (both terms used for same job), implementation and support is made by the vendor, the rest by the sysadmins

  4. So speaking in terms of located an individual who can repair Break/Fix hardware issues on an EMC Avamar, would we need a Storage engineer or Systems Engineer or something else?? Thanks, Mark

    1. Technical break/fix issues would fall more toward the engineering side. Depending on the size of the company or the IT group it could be a storage engineer or a general systems engineer. In my case, hardware break/fix issues have always been handled by the storage vendor under a maintenance contract.

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