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Data storage ROI possible for SMBs

With the volume of data flowing through small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) growing by 60% or more each year, creating a systematic approach to backing up and archiving data is vital to the success of any business.

Research by Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. indicates that half of SMBs will go out of business within three years if they cannot recover data within 24 hours of a disaster, raising the importance of a comprehensive data storage and retrieval system, coupled with a comprehensive business recovery plan. The good news is that data storage hardware prices have been dropping.

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"There's more and more data to store and protect, and threats continue to grow both internally and externally," said Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at The StorageIO Group, an information technology analyst and consulting firm based in Stillwater, Minn. "There's a good awareness at the enterprise level of threats, needs and pain points, and all of those are coming down the SMB space."

Hilton Grand Vacations Co., a division of Hilton Hotels Corp. based in Orlando, Fla., develops, markets and operates 27 vacation ownership resorts in popular tourist destinations and employs more than 2,000 people. Travis McCulloch, systems engineer, says the company has spent close to $1 million during the past 18 months to improve its storage system, including remote storage so each site doesn't have to be responsible for its own backups.

"Typically, the resorts don't have an advanced IT staff, and some have no IT staff," McCulloch said. "We were asking the sales offices to do something that we should take care of for the company. We're trying to make it easier on users so all offices can have the same level of service as the corporate office."

The new storage system offers encryption capabilities for added data security, a wide-area file services system, network-attached storage, a new tape library and a new disk system. This setup has reduced the amount of data flowing through the wide area network by 80% due to the reduction of redundant backups.

"A lot [of the system] was driven by the needs of the corporate office for more storage, and for a little bit more we have been able to handle the remote sites," McCulloch said.

Schulz said SMBs of any size should have not only a comprehensive methodology around storing and backing up data on a regular basis, but also a business continuance plan should disaster befall the company. "Not just a data recovery system," Schulz said, "but a plan to run your business elsewhere."

Storage solutions for SMBs need not be as complex as systems for enterprise companies, but enterprise-quality systems at a price most SMBs can afford are showing up in the market. The real savings come not when the system is installed but in its day-to-day operation, Schulz notes.

When John Greiner began his job as CTO at Legal Services for New York City (LSNY) in 2002, the database infrastructure was a hodgepodge of systems cobbled together at each of the nonprofit law firm's 16 offices by consultants, volunteers and staff members with an interest in technology.

"As an attorney myself, I look at [data storage] as a critical piece," Greiner said. "If you don't have what you need when you need it, all is for naught." And since LSNY works with low-income clients mainly on housing issues, a missed deadline can mean an eviction.

"In 2002, every office was doing its own thing: own database, own email server, own backup solution -- or no backup solution, in the case of a couple of offices," Greiner said.

Working with an outsourced telephony provider, LSNY moved to a central data hub environment with two data centers and a SAN so workers in remote locations can access files in real time. Files more than two weeks old are moved to the library for longer-term storage.

"Over a period of two to three years, we've gotten all of our money back with a high level of security," Greiner said. "We know our data are backed up and secure in two locations."

When shopping for a storage system, Schulz advises looking at systems that can grow with the company. "Remember that SMBs grow up," Schulz said. "Five to 10 years ago, eBay, Google and Yahoo were SMBs, and now they are enterprises."

Matt Bolch is a contributing writer based in Atlanta. You can read more about him at www.mattbolch.com.


This was first published in September 2006

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