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How to choose the right data storage device

Need storage? Ed Tittle offers an essential list with considerations and recommendations for more storage space on an SMB network.

If you are looking to increase or centralize storage space, find a place to keep backups or encourage users to keep key files in a safe place, a freestanding data storage device is hard to beat. Depending on your willingness to tackle "do it yourself" technology, such devices can offer terrific value (in addition to a lot of storage space), easy access and convenient use.

Here's a list of data storage device options and recommendations for a small or medium-sized business (SMB) network:

Consider your budget and data storage requirements: The amount of space you need will dictate the kinds of devices you are most likely to buy and use. The best buys in this category may be found in "drive in a box" solutions that bundle a standalone enclosure with connections and a power supply along with a big, cheap (usually ATA or EIDE) hard disk, with capacities up to 400 GB. More expensive solutions use RAID arrays and offer all kinds of bells and whistles, with typical capacities of 1 terabyte and up. For most small operations, options for less than $500 fit the budget and can meet storage requirements nicely.

Weigh the pros and cons of bus vs. network attachment: Data storage devices can use FireWire or Universal Serial Bus (USB) (USB 2.0 is faster and preferable to older 1.0 or 1.1 interfaces) to attach to computers, or they come with various types of network connections (10/100 and/or gigabit Ethernet is typical) to permit direct network connections. Computer-attached devices are cheaper, but they're a burden on PCs. Network-attached storage devices (NAS) cost more but are not a burden on PCs. NAS devices also offer other bundled services, connections and capabilities.

Look into other services and add-ons: Multipurpose NAS devices often include USB or FireWire ports (so you can actually connect bus-attached devices directly to network-attached devices and increase storage capacity easily and cheaply that way). They also often offer Internet links (for DSL or cable modem hookups), additional network services (such as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and network address translation), and even security features (such as firewalls or virtual private network gateways). Of course, you pay for these add-ons, but the cost increases can be as low as only $100 to $200 more than bus-attached storage devices, and may therefore hit some SMBs' "sweet spots."

Find easy ways to add more storage space: Both bus and NAS devices display strong "plug and play" propensities. In most cases, you plug them in, hook them up and turn them on. Your users gain instant access to more storage. It's a great value proposition, but it's also designed to be easy to install, use and maintain.

Establish and enforce data storage locations and habits: If you add more storage to your networks, it should also be shared among at least some, if not all, users. This means it's important to inform employees that they should move important files to these devices to make sure the items are readily accessible to all who need access, and so they can be backed up on a regular basis. In some cases, it will be necessary to explain to employees that by using shared data storage devices to store important files and data, they're not only helping themselves and their co-workers, but they're also providing better ways to protect and preserve key information assets. Use login scripts or other similar mechanisms to establish drive links and mappings when user machines start up, and shared storage will become a part of their regular working environments, easy to see and use.

Manage network backup: Many data storage device offerings include backup software, or provide discounts or coupons to acquire such software. Built-in Windows Backup can also usually access and back up to or from storage devices, so they can be used to store backups for others and easily be backed up themselves. But formulating a backup plan and schedule -- and making sure it's followed -- is the real key to protecting key files, data and systems.

When it comes to adding more data storage space, you'll find that it is surprisingly easy and affordable.



Educate employees about storage and backups: In some SMBs, only shared storage is backed up. If that's the case, employees need to know that by keeping key files and data on a shared device, they're also helping to ensure that it's protected and remains available, even if the device goes down or fails for any reason. In other SMBs, desktops and shared storage are all backed up alike, but employees still need to know how to request that damaged or lost files be replaced, so they can take advantage of other copies stored elsewhere.

Decide on storage controls: Workgroups make natural boundaries for who shares storage -- or at least, access to common sets of files, applications and other data. Working with access control lists, group policies and other mechanisms to let authorized individuals share storage (but keep unauthorized individuals out) is a key to maintaining proper information security and control. And because even huge drives fill up at some point, it's worth considering if (or when) establishing user quotas may be advised (these set limits as to the maximum amount of storage that individuals or groups may consume and can help them to police themselves proactively).

Establish cleanup and retention policies: Over time, junk files have a way of accumulating and consuming surprisingly large amounts of storage space. Work with your users to identify such junk and schedule regular cleanups. Unlike backups, cleanups do away with files that are no longer wanted or needed, so it's important to work with those who ultimately decide what's wanted and needed (your users) to make sure cleanups do neither too little nor too much by way of making things disappear. Likewise, policies on document retention should be clearly enunciated; mechanisms to retrieve old files or data from archives should be explained so users know exactly how to access their data and how long they may reasonably expect to do so.

Help your users make the most of storage spaces: By explaining where shared storage resides, how much users may consume, and how cleanups and backups work, as well as making it easy for users to access and use it, you can help your organization get a handle on key files and data at the same time that you help users relieve desktop congestion and share information more readily. This takes a little planning and effort but should pay off handsomely faster than you might think.

When it comes to adding more data storage space, you'll find that it is surprisingly easy and affordable. Using that space wisely and protecting its contents properly will take some initial thought and planning. It may even require some policy changes and user education. But in the long run, what you do with your storage matters even more than how much you have at your disposal.

Ed Tittel is a full-time freelance writer, trainer and consultant who specializes in matters related to information security, markup languages and networking technologies. He's a regular contributor to numerous TechTarget websites and technology editor for Certification Magazine, and he writes an email newsletter for CramSession called "Must Know News."

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