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Storage planning for SMBs: Check IT List

A successful SMB storage plan requires a thorough examination of your storage needs, budgets and resources. Greg Schulz asks and answers seven key questions for small and medium-sized businesses to consider.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) need to take extra factors into consideration when it comes to storage planning in a growing environment. Here are some questions to consider for SMBs with limited budgets and resources:

1. What are your storage environment objectives?

Identify your growth plans for the business and identify specific applications and functions. Consider these questions:

  • Will more servers be needed to support more users or new applications?
  • Will storage capacity increase along with more I/O performance needs?
  • What level of data protection, including backup and disaster recovery, will be needed and how will that affect your data storage infrastructure?
  • Do you have any specialized applications that require specific I/O and data storage needs or availability?
  • What regulatory or compliance requirements do you have for data preservation (retention) and accessibility?

2. What are the people skill sets and experience related to storage in your environment?

Look for tools that can help automate common and repeatable tasks. Also look for tools that work for you. The last thing you want is to introduce tools that add to your workload and increase the complexity of your environment. Some examples are tools that can analyze and report on the health of your data protection, including backup and replication as well as general storage use and activity.

3. How big is your budget and what can you buy? 

Even though your IT dollar can buy more today than in the past, such as more disk capacity, processing power and memory, most environments have increasing needs that offset these gains. Some companies are turning to leasing to help maximize cash flow and enhance their business balance sheet and budget. But leasing might not be cheaper in the long run. You should also look into other forms of financing and confer with someone knowledgeable in finances and taxes for your particular needs.

4. What existing storage devices (disk, tape, optical) or management software do you have?

Do you have any existing storage devices including disk or tape drives that you would like to leverage moving forward? Or does it make more sense from a cost standpoint (people, time, maintenance, support) to upgrade to newer technologies? The same consideration should be applied for software and management tools including backup and recovery. Can you make what you have work, or will it be more cost effective to acquire newer technologies to reduce software maintenance costs? Factor the costs into your decision of training and re-educating yourself or your staff to use the new technologies, versus the benefits of newer technology in terms of performance, capacity, ease of use and robustness.

5. Do you have preferred business partners, integrators, resellers or vendors?

Balance the cost tradeoffs of going with a single vendor-based option, versus dealing with best-of-breed and integrated solutions. When fully tested, integrated solutions have the benefit of being easier to install and use and possibly costing less to acquire and operate compared with self-integrated solutions. For an SMB environment with limited time or resources for testing, integration and ongoing maintenance, the savings in time and headaches should balance any potential for vendor lock-in and cost differences.

6. Do you know what your storage growth and capacity needs are near-term and long-term?

How many applications, servers and users do you need to support, and what are the performance and capacity requirements? Storage capacity planning can be considered part art and part science, just like server and network forecasting. The objective is to have an idea of what your storage resource needs will be at some given point of time. The trick, of course, is not buying too much too early and thus tying up your budget dollars versus not having enough storage when you need it and being forced into a more expensive reactionary purchase decision. Some vendors will work you on special pay-as-grow programs where storage is either physically added, or, it's already installed and you pay for it when you use it. Start simple with a capacity forecast plan and avoid getting caught up in too many details early on and evolve the forecast as you can.

7. What are your availability and data protection requirements?

Establish recovery time objectives (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO) for your applications to meet business availability and survivability requirements. RTO determines how quickly your applications need to be available to support your business. RPO determines how much (if any) data you can afford to lose in the event of a disaster. Balance the costs savings of using a manual backup and data protection solution versus the automation and elimination of human error of using more expensive disk-based and automated tape devices.

Look for modular and scalable storage systems that allow you to grow and transparently move data around for growth and load balancing. Also, avoid the temptation to buy fewer large-capacity disk drives to cut costs, as opposed to matching the disk drives speed and performance to meet your particular needs. In other words, avoid focusing just on dollar per gigabyte as a comparison; also look at performance, response time and reliability for storage.

Determine your needs either on your own or with the assistance of a business partner and seek out third-party and neutral opinions. Look for price-effective solutions, which may not always be the lowest-cost ones on the market. Too often a lower-cost product will end up costing you more to integrate and manage, which negates up-front costs. Align technology that will meet your requirements and allow growth in terms of performance, capacity, availability and feature function.

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

This was last published in June 2006

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