Storage systems come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They provide the ability to protect data in the event of a disaster and simultaneously streamline business processes. Depending on the budget and volume of data, a small- to medium-sized business (SMB) owner should consider a system in one or more of the four storage categories—removable direct attached, USB or flash drives; non-removable direct attached, internal or external drives; networked storage, file-based network attached storage (NAS) or a block-based storage area network (SAN); and removable media for backup and archive.
Despite the variety and accessibility, many do not invest in storage systems. In a recent study by Symantec Corporation, compiled in November 2010, the security, storage, and systems management company found that 44 percent of data left on virtual systems is not backed up regularly. Respondents also shared that 60 percent of their virtualized servers are not covered in current disaster recovery plans.
Disaster recovery is an important consideration for any size business. A SMB may not possess a large amount of data, but that does not mean it is any less valuable than a larger corporation’s information. “Whether it’s a small accounting firm, a doctor’s office, or just about any kind of small business, if data isn’t efficiently safeguarded, the viability of the business could be in question the first time the data is lost,” shares Chris Romoser, spokesperson, Iomega Corporation, an EMC Company.
It is essential for businesses of all sizes to implement storage solutions that serve as both a daily archive and as a backup in case of a disaster. Losing information could mean jeopardizing a client and your company’s reputation.
Data in SMB Terms
Data found in a small business environment includes everything from Word documents to Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, client contacts and/or personal information found in a database program, or accounting records. This information is referred to as user-created data. An operating system, applications, and system settings are other facets to consider. This type of data, if saved properly, provides continuity in the event of a hard drive failure or virus.
It may be overwhelming to determine which information is important to save, but if regular backups are scheduled on a daily basis—after an initial backup is conducted—the risk of loss significantly decreases. The Symantec 2010 Disaster Recovery Study shares that respondents admitted 82 percent of their backups occur weekly or even more infrequently rather than daily. This is due to resource constraints, lack of storage capacity, and incomplete adoption of advanced and efficient materials.
To ease in, it generally makes good business sense to start with main application or production servers and branch out to periphery data when backing up. However, this practice truly depends on the value of the data.
“Older financial records may be archived offsite on an infrequent schedule, while current email records or project data should be backed up more frequently. Customers tell us that it’s more costly to manage deleting or archiving data than it is to simply treat it all as important and back it up,” admits Drew Meyer, senior director of product marketing, NETGEAR.
Major advancements in all four types of storage occurred over the last five years. Due to competition, manufacturers continue to create inexpensive, efficient, reliable, and user-friendly products for the smaller business end user. Introductions to the market and old practices—once defunct, are both making headlines.
For example, tiering storage by performance need or accessibility is once again mainstream. This practice allows administrators to make sure they adequately provide the proper storage medium for the different data types that exist within an organization.
NAS systems are improving, with more expert features and data management capabilities at affordable prices. Features that were once not standard, including RAID capabilities—protecting data from a drive failure, remote access to data, enterprise-level automated backup, and Internet security programs are now commonplace on products targeted toward small companies.
Block-based SAN is also finding a place in the small business world. “It was traditionally reserved for large enterprises with the budget to make big investments in proprietary fiber channel networking and storage systems. Now, low-cost, high-performance Internet interface systems allow smaller organizations to support a virtualized server environment, which is an ideal strategy for supporting application failover and uptime,” adds Chris Gruber, director of product marketing, storage solutions, D-Link Systems.
Cloud solutions—referred to as cloud computing—are new and relevant. AMI Partners says that 12 percent of customers currently use cloud services and 80 percent of them are hybrid.
There are a lot of options available to a business owner. Here we name a few.
CMS Products, Inc. developed the technology that allows computer users to make a complete backup to an external USB device and use that external device as a spare for restarting a system in the event of a catastrophic failure. The company refers to this procedure as Instant Disaster Recovery.
D-Link offers standalone systems for secondary applications such as disaster recovery, disk backup, and IP surveillance. They provide platforms for server visualization, storage consolidation, database, and email. The company’s volume virtualization technology allows users to utilize non-proprietary, off-the-shelf disk drives; mix and match drive capacities and manufacturers within the same array; strip differing RAID volumes across the same set of drives; expand, reconfigure, or physically migrate volumes in real time without system downtime or interruption in volume access; and physically roam disk drives between D-Link arrays.
Iomega recently introduced a personal cloud computing technology, a Web-based computing architecture that connects an Iomega network storage device to other individuals and/or devices via the Internet. It is completely self-owned, with content and accessibility under the user’s control. Users connect to up to 250 devices with the Iomega Personal Cloud.
NETGEAR provides an embedded offsite archive option built into its network storage. Any user can turn it on and begin offloading data to a safe third-party data center for archive purposes with as little or as much capacity as needed.
Overland Storage’s SnapServer NAS products support both block and file access for Windows, UNIX, Linux, and Mac OS X. Overland SnapSAN offers SAN-based block storage either in a S1000 line supporting various connectivity options or a S2000 line with completely integrated solutions for Windows and virtualization solutions providing box-to-box availability and offsite disaster recovery. Overland NEO automated tape libraries are designed for long-term storage capacity.
Tanberg Data provides direct-attached standalone storage devices, tape automation solutions, fixed and removable disk-based storage turnkey data protection, and disaster recovery solutions.
What Works Best
Researching the best storage device for your company requires talking to the right people and recognizing what data you plan to store, backup, and archive. Speaking with an expert may bring up questions that you didn’t consider, such as what are the regulatory demands, what about cash flow, and are there growth predictions in your future?
The primary driver is the application the storage solution is meant to support. Organizations should consider a few elements, such as total cost of ownership, reliability, scalability, performance, flexibility, and ease of management.
“A good place to start is to create a very basic service level agreement that specifies required uptime, hours of operation, data availability, recovery point objectives, recovery time objectives, and regulatory compliance. Beginning this process will start to expose vulnerabilities and identify the most critical areas to address based on the actual needs of the business,” recommends Ted Oade, business unit manager, systems, Tanberg.
“Smart SMBs determine the proper solution or solutions by evaluating their immediate needs, projecting their future requirements, and making purchasing decisions that address the immediate with the flexibility to adapt to the projected over time,” adds Joe Disher, solutions marketing manager, Overland.
In all cases, the deciding factor should be based on the volume and growth of an organization’s data and how it will be accessed and shared in a protected environment.
Protecting Your Information
Business owners cannot afford long periods of unproductive business, downtime is not an option. The Symantec survey shares that the time to recover from an outage is twice as long as consumers think, as it is expected that downtime per outage is two hours. In reality, the median downtime per outage in the last 12 months was five hours. Organizations polled in the study experienced on average four incidents in the past 12 months.
The study also comments that downtime costs an average of $3,000 per day for a small business. This isn’t capital that is always readily available. Wasting, for lack of a better term, this amount of money due to something that could be prevented with a user-friendly storage option is upsetting—and detrimental to a small business owner.
Implementing a proper storage system provides peace of mind, and it can’t hurt to backup your backup. “This probably depends on the complexity of the business, but in general, having a backup of the backup is always a good idea,” suggests Gary Streuter, VP of marketing, CMS.