Storage optimization considerations for SMBs

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

IT budgets are always tight in small to midsize business, and when it comes to storage, many simply bolt on additional boxes to accommodate growth and data retention regulations without considering the added complexity and long-term costs.

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In fact, most SMBs do not have a comprehensive storage strategy, but there are a few simple ways SMB IT teams can to maximize their investments. To start, companies need to determine the expected size of their data set. To make that assessment, SMBs should determine:

• The size of the company or the number of employees 

• The size of the company's data (gigabytes or terabytes?) 

• Data access frequency 

• Time-to-data requirements 

• Long-term retention requirements 

• And whether or not data needs to be transported from one location to another

Second, companies should determine how the infrastructure will be managed and the comfort level with relying on an external resource as a trusted adviser. SMBs often turn to external consultants and value-added resellers (VARs) as their IT specialists, where bigger businesses can afford dedicated, in-house IT staff. VARs can offer SMBs the latest insight on new technologies, manage vendor relationships and make recommendations on buying decisions. Whereas, in-house specialists know the company's needs and business, are able to make adjustments quickly and maintain control of the infrastructure.

The third consideration is budget. Fortunately, there are a plethora of storage choices that can be effectively and affordably deployed, but SMBs should establish an initial budget range. Using a multi-tiered storage approach allows a business to make cost/availability tradeoff decisions at multiple points during the data lifecycle.

Key features for a flexible, optimized infrastructure

The ideal to shoot for is a flexible, robust storage infrastructure that provides end-to-end management and security of data. In order to build an infrastructure that incorporates the flexibility and management options needed for a growing business, SMB IT teams should consider building in these important features:

* Scalability. As your business continues to grow, so will your data infrastructure needs. Having a storage infrastructure that is as scalable and agile as the amount and type of growing pertinent business data is a must. Look for appliances that support increased capacity media cartridges or the easy addition of new appliances or arrays.

* Active archiving. Data archiving requirements are usually defined by company policy or industry and government regulations. These policies and regulations will dictate retention and retrieval time requirements. Certain industry requirements may demand a business to reproduce data in a very short period of time, along with "chain-of-custody" audit trail data. There are now technologies that increase efficiencies of active and multi-tiered archive you can incorporate into your infrastructures including new storage media formats.

* Off-site backup for disaster recovery. Up to 60% of SMBs do not have a true backup or disaster recovery plan. The most common mistake companies make in their disaster recovery and business continuity planning is not having off-site backup. You should have a system that will not only provide an on-site copy of data for fast restoration, but also an off-site copy if the disaster causes damage to the primary storage location.

* Cloud. As confidence in cloud providers continues to increase, more SMBs are turning to cloud storage for off-site, online backup. The main benefits of cloud storage are threefold: The cloud provides true disaster recovery and business continuity by adding critical off-site storage to ensure a business' most important asset is accessible in the event of a disaster; the cloud offers pay-as-you-go options, which enable businesses to account for storage as an operational expense, not a capital expense; and cloud storage is infinitely scalable. Adding a cloud element to your existing infrastructure is a simple way of maximizing security and accessibility options.

* Deduplication. Data deduplication takes advantage of the enormous amount of redundancy in data to reduce storage needs. Backups of client systems, file servers, databases and virtual infrastructure are all ripe for data reduction. Eliminating duplicate data can decrease the amount of storage space necessary, depending on the deduplication technology used and the level of data redundancy. By using storage technologies that support data deduplication, you can cut costs, alleviate backup requirements and accelerate data restoration in the event of a disaster.

* Tiered storage. It can seem daunting to overhaul storage infrastructure while restricted by a tight budget. But implementing a tiered storage strategy is one of the best approaches for cost-effective optimization. A tiered storage infrastructure uses higher-cost disk storage for business-critical data, lower-cost disk storage for near-line access, and tape or cloud storage for low access. Incorporating technology in your infrastructure built with features for scalability, portability, cloud seeding, and security can present tangible business and cost advantages for SMBs. It's one of the reasons why Imation recommends removable hard disk drive media (commonly known as RDX) to SMBs.

RDX is the only media that provides SMBs more storage options to enhance existing infrastructure, data security, and business growth potential. As removable storage, RDX supports off-site storage for disaster recovery and offers a practical way to seed cloud storage. New secure versions of RDX media also feature encryption and cryptographic erase. Because RDX is both forward and backwards compatible, data protection appliances and other storage arrays that are built using RDX can easily scale with business needs.

The challenges of increased data flow and necessary management for data security and compliance will not be going away anytime soon. However, with the right-sized, flexible, and secure IT infrastructure in place, SMBs can spend most of their business hours dedicated to business growth rather than data growth.

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