Storage and Small Business: Part Two

In part one of our series on storage strategies, we looked at the various types of storage available and the solutions used by two small businesses with very different needs.

In part two, we look at how storage vendors have courted small businesses with products originally designed for bigger companies. In some cases the products are more appropriate for enterprises with hundreds of personnel and which typically bring in large revenues. That’s why many “SMB” product lines are far too expensive and complex for most small businesses.

The good news is the vendor community is finally getting the message. A series of recent products has made storage solutions far more attractive to small businesses. Even companies with fewer than 20 employees can take advantage of some of the items listed below. And for businesses in the 20 to 100-employee range, there is now a wealth of storage gear available.

“Many vendors have released SMB solutions, but these are usually targeted at the larger SMB customer rather than the very smallest,” says Tony Lock, an analyst at UK-based IT consultancy, Bloor Research. “SMB solution providers in the 20-employee category and larger include Dantz, Iomega and Computer Associates (CA). Vendors with products that apply to the 100-user plus community include Asigra, NetApp, Bakbone and HP.”

Let’s take a look at specific, existing vendor offerings and what types of businesses can benefit from using them.

Fewer Than 20 People
Generally speaking, businesses with less than 20 people don’t need much in the way of storage. Direct attached storage (DAS) dominates and backup is typically accomplished on an individual basis.

“Basic backup is the primary application for 20-user sites,” says David Luft, CA’s senior vice president of SMB product development.

He recommends, though, that backup should be supplemented by some effective means of data protection. While some companies have added anti-virus software, most have been slow to adopt anti-spyware. This leaves their data exposed to risk.

Unfortunately, such software can be cumbersome to manage in any business that lacks a dedicated IT person or staff — it has to be updated to keep up with new threats and new versions have to be installed. This takes someone hopping from desktop to desktop making sure everyone is up to date. After a while, most machines fall behind and viruses, pop-ups and slow performance become an accepted fact of life.

Enter the CA Protection Suite, an integrated data protection tool that combines backup, antivirus, anti-spyware and data migration capability. It has a Web-based management console that lets one person easily manage the office software from one screen. Pricing for the Desktop, Server and Business Protection Suites ranges from $325 to $1099 for a five-user license.

Another technology that may be of interest to businesses with fewer than 20 employees is Continuous Data Protection (CDP). Instead of backing up files daily or weekly, it checks for new files to backup (or make changes to existing files) every minute or two. While CDP can be very expensive, Lasso CDP by Lasso Logic of San Francisco, Calif., (recently acquired by SonicWALL), is designed and priced specifically for the small business market. “Backup systems won’t protect data if a virus causes a network/computer crash before the data is backed up at the end of the day,” says Anna Yen, general manager of Lasso Logic. “This is why continuous protection is important.”

Several product versions are available starting at around $500.

20 to 100 People
Companies with more than 20 employees could certainly benefit from the tools named above. But they may also need additional help. Network Attached Storage (NAS), for example, could be the answer for companies that are always running out of disk space.

Firms that store a lot of data on a daily basis might find it more efficient to buy a NAS appliance, also known as a storage server, rather than trying to keep that information on existing desktops and servers. NAS boxes have tons of capacity and employees can leave their desktops empty (thereby greatly improving performance) and store all their files on the central NAS server.

“NAS is a great fit for all environments, but especially in small businesses where IT staffing is limited or non-existent,” says Laurie Elliott, worldwide marketing manager for SMB storage at HP.

Take the case of a marketing group or law firm comprising 20 or more people. Such a practice generates a lot of data and relies heavily on e-mail. NAS makes an affordable solution, generally costing a few thousand dollars. You can find more NAS information at HP‘s Web site.

Another possibility for companies in the 20- to 100-person category is the Rapid Recovery System by Unitrends. The program offers basic disaster recovery capabilities that help small businesses quickly regain access to vital information. The price starts at around $5,000.

“Unitrends is first and alone in producing a comprehensive system that delivers the full range of business systems continuity benefits with the speed, security and simplicity that SMEs demand today,” says Arun Taneja, founder of the Taneja Group, an industry analysis and consulting group in Hopkinton, Mass.

Within minutes, the system recovers entire computer systems including operating systems, applications and application data. It includes CDP capabilities and enhanced data encryption, and works without constant attention from IT staff.

More Than 100
Once a company expands beyond 100 employees, it is likely that it has at least one full-time IT person. Such firms may benefit by looking at some higher-end areas of the storage landscape. While traditional Storage Area Networks (SAN) may be expensive overkill, IP SANs could prove cost-effective.

“Companies of 100 users or more should look at implementing an IP SAN,” says Tom Major, chief technology officer at LeftHand Networks of Boulder, Colo. “If IT can hook some PCs and servers onto a network, they can deploy an IP SAN.”

The LeftHand SAN comes in a box that costs about $12,400.

Other companies also offer IP SANs. Elliot of HP suggests that firms with five or more ProLiant servers should move to an IP SAN arrangement using an external HP StorageWorks disk array. Similarly, EMC has introduced the $6,000 CLARiiON AX10 for the small business market. The AX10 acts as the central storage repository in an IP SAN.

For those with more heavy-duty needs, Hitachi Data Systems has introduced its TagmaStore Workgroup Modular Storage (WMS100).

“Many small and medium businesses have seen their storage requirements expand and now face challenges similar to large enterprises,” says Claus Mikkelsen, chief scientist for Hitachi Data Systems in Santa Clara, Calif.

The WMS100 provides a 5-Terabyte IP SAN with pricing starting at under $20,000.

Invest in What You Need
With the large variety of storage offerings on the market, small businesses need to research what will work for them and come to a clear realization of what to implement given their available resources. Some “small business” tools are actually enterprise products relabeled or scaled down a little in a misguided attempt to “service” the lower end of the market. But some vendors are now introducing tools tailored to small business needs.

“Far from being stripped-down versions, the latest batch of low-end storage tools are built to meet the needs of the small business community,” says Bloor Research analyst, Tony Lock.

That said, the products named above do not necessarily fit easily into handy pigeonholes such as “less than 20 people” or “more than 100.” Some would be quite at home in either category, while the deployment of others is largely dependent on the type of business you own. A financial services firm of 15 people, for example, could be handling a portfolio of hundreds of millions of dollars and might not think twice about purchasing Hitachi’s WMS100. By the same token, any small business that is heavily IT-centric is likely to see the benefits of higher-end storage despite having only a handful of employees.

“There are a few organizations of 20 people that have major storage requirements,” says Lock. “These are extremely specialized companies and, with such a high dependence on IT and data storage, they usually have SAN capabilities.”

Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow’s Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.

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