Data storage management for SMBs: Clearing up the confusion

A recent SearchSMB.com poll found that data storage management offerings for SMBs are overpriced and hard to use. This week's tip helps clear up the confusion surrounding storage for SMBs.

Although it feels like a reality to many, it is a myth that data storage management products for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are too expensive, lacking in features, difficult to acquire or a combination of these challenges. But there are some steps SMBs can take that will make their storage experiences easier.

Know thyself

Key to a successful storage acquisition for an organization of any size is to know what you must have and would like to have. It is also crucial to understand what products are available, how they can benefit your data storage management and how to get them.

Here are seven questions to prepare for a storage acquisition:

  1. What are your storage objectives, and what do you want your storage to do?
  2. What is the people skill sets related to storage in your environment?
  3. How much of a budget do you have and what can you spend the budget on?
  4. What existing storage devices (disk, tape, optical) or software do you already have?
  5. Do you have preferred business partners, resellers or vendors to work with?
  6. Do you know what your storage growth and capacity needs are now and in the future?
  7. What are your availability and data protection needs?

Comparing apples to oranges

The storage market is full of storage products for SMBs ranging from entry-level to midrange to ultra scalable storage solutions. It is important to make apples-to-apples comparisons and look beyond how many disk drives and what storage capacity exists for a given price. Here is what SMBs should look into and compare:

  • Options for accessing the storage (storage area network or network-attached storage).
  • How much available RAID-protected usable storage there is.
  • Additional management features -- including snapshots, local and remote mirroring, data movement and value-add software.
  • What is included in the base price, along with what the additional costs are for added capacity and optional storage software components?
  • Understand what your service and ongoing maintenance support fees will be in addition to upfront costs.

Vendors with SMB solutions include Dell Inc., Dot Hill Systems Corp., EMC Corp., EqualLogic Inc., Hitachi Data Systems, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Intel Corp., LeftHand Networks Inc., Network Appliance Inc., StoreVault, ONStor Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc., among others. Venues for acquiring storage solutions for SMBs include the manufacturers as well channel and distribution partners, such as Bell Microsytems Inc. and CDW Inc., among others.

Assuming your data storage needs will grow, look for modular storage systems that allow you to transparently manage storage including data migration across different tiers of storage. Avoid focusing just on dollar per gigabyte as a comparison; also look at performance, response time and reliability for storage.

Determine your needs on your own or with the assistance of a business partner, such as a reseller, integrator or value-added reseller, and seek out third-party and neutral opinions. Keep in mind that the lowest-cost storage may not be the cheapest solution when you add in the cost of optional management tools and software or other required components. Align the applicable technology that meets your requirements along with providing extra value to support growth and simplify day-to-day management without adding complexity.

Greg Schulz is founder and senior analyst of The StorageIO Group and author of the book Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier).


This was first published in September 2006

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