Small businesses are cranking out data at unprecedented volumes—and that’s generating unprecedented headaches for overworked, underfunded IT managers.
Given the average company’s reliance on e-mail, shared files, application data, and digitized records and documents—not to mention data-hogging marketing collateral like videos and images—it’s no wonder that experts conservatively estimate data growth somewhere between 25% and 40% annually, outpacing IT budget hikes by a factor of 10. Combine that data explosion with the ever-increasing demands of governmental compliance rules and regulations, and it’s not surprising so many businesses are scrambling to identify data storage solutions that are secure, flexible and cost-effective.
There’s good news for IT managers, however: The per-gigabyte cost of hard disk drives and associated data storage, backup, and archiving solutions continues to drop. And innovations in cloud storage and other technologies present additional opportunities to stretch IT dollars even further.
Data storage demands differ for every business, of course, so the challenge is targeting the solution and strategy that are best for your business.
Here’s what you need to know.
Developing the correct data storage strategy begins with understanding the business value of that data. Some fundamental questions IT managers should ask:
From there, identify the company’s most critical data and prioritize storage management resources appropriately, making sure data management resources are focused on the most vital tasks. Also, establish data retention policies that adhere to both internal business requirements and external legislative demands, determining what information can be deleted in a matter of days and what must be kept for months or even years.
There are five common data storage strategies available to small businesses, each with clear pluses and minuses. They are:
1. Direct attached storage architectures connect the storage device directly to a PC or server via USB port (as opposed to a switch network), granting the host exclusive access. Advantages of DAS storage include its low initial cost—hardware is as cheap as a few hundred dollars. But DAS scalability is severely limited: Servers must be taken out of service simply to incorporate additional storage units, making this a poor choice for businesses with strict uptime demands or escalating data storage requirements.
2. Network attached storage appliances are dedicated, self-contained storage units that connect to the server via the existing Ethernet network. Advantages of NAS include ease of setup—many products ship with install wizards, and because units attach to the network, there’s no server downtime. However, NAS appliances typically gobble up more bandwidth than most other devices connected to the company’s network, and performance hinges on the amount of bandwidth available.
3. Disaster protected storage appliances—available in both DAS and NAS flavors—contain hard drives that are fortified against the kinds of natural disasters that would otherwise erase or corrupt unprotected data. Units are typically produced from military-grade materials, making them safe from fire (for up to half an hour, anyway) and prolonged immersion in water. But DPS appliances don’t come cheap, and they’re by no means invulnerable.
4. Managed storage solutions are where things get interesting. They eliminate physical storage issues from the equation, shifting all data to a secure online environment. That approach is generally less expensive than on-site hardware: Providers distribute infrastructure and service costs across multiple business customers, and there’s none of the upfront equipment costs and ongoing maintenance expenses associated with physical data storage. Removing servers from the premises frees up office space as well.
That streaming IT approach is also scalable: A recent Deloitte/Google survey found that small businesses leveraging managed solutions to overcome their growth challenges grow 26% faster and deliver 21% higher gross profits. It’s also secure. Data is stored remotely and not held on transportable hardware, assuaging theft and damage fears, and software is updated automatically to fix bugs and negate cyber attacks.
5. Offline media presents an undeniably old-school but still-relevant data storage option. While tape drives remain the go-to offline data backup format, some businesses have evolved to optical media alternatives like DVD and Blu-ray discs. Offline media storage offers faster data backup and restoration speeds than online data storage, which depends almost entirely on the quality of your company’s web connection. Most offline media options are small and lightweight, boosting mobility and convenience, and they’re impervious to cyber security breaches and other digital threats.
But offline media is not immune to physical hazards. Even a spilled glass of water can destroy an external hard drive, for example, while heat and magnets can desensitize tape drives. Optical media formats can become unreadable over time. Loss and theft also pose legitimate concerns.
Don’t let upfront costs dictate your decision. The real cost of data storage? Operating the solution over a number of years.
Carefully vet storage providers. Pay careful attention to capacity, performance, availability and fault tolerance. Also identify a partner with outstanding technical support and an attentive account team that will proactively resolve any issues you may encounter.
Implement a disaster recovery plan—and run random tests each week.
And last but not least, follow the famous 3-2-1 backup rule, which mandates retaining at least three copies of your data, saving these backups across at least two different media formats, and storing one of those backup copies offsite. Sometimes the simplest solutions are also the most effective.
flickr photo by Drew Coffman shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
flickr photo by University of Illinois Library shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
flickr photo by Enid Martindale shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license