Why Storage Is Such A Challenge For SMBs - InformationWeek
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6/14/2009
05:17 PM
Fredric Paul
Fredric Paul
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Why Storage Is Such A Challenge For SMBs

SMB storage needs keep growing, but factors from virtualization to proprietary terminology keep storage way more complicated than it has to be.

For most SMBs, storage is an overcomplicated mess that they have no choice but to struggle through. Does it really have to be that way?

According to NEC, not necessarily. Although NEC has been in the storage business for some 50 years, it's not generally considered one of the leaders. Maybe that's why Josh Eddy, product marketing manager for NEC's Advanced Storage Products Group, was eager to talk about everything that's wrong with storage for SMBs today.

Terminology Terror
At most SMBs, storage is typically handled by an IT generalist, not a storage specialist, Eddy says, and the storage industry can make that a problem. "Storage is complicated," Eddy says, "and getting more and more complicated. The terminology is difficult, the concepts are abstract, and we come up with ridiculous names for the same things."

I couldn't agree more. What's up with calling things NAS (Network Attached Storage) and SAN (Storage Area Networks), anyway? It's like they're trying to confuse people!

Surprisingly, Eddy agrees. "A lot of vendors try to be confusing," he charges. "They thrive on confusion as they try to brand their proprietary terminology."

The Dark Side Of Storage Virtualization
Virtualization is the hottest trend in storage right now, for companies of all sizes. And for good reason. Storage virtualization can vastly increase the efficiency of your storage solutions.

But Eddy says that virtualization can be extra painful for smaller companies -- raising the demands on your storage systems and compounding any storage issues you may already have, from corrupted data to hard drive failures. "Virtualization puts more eggs in the same basket," Eddy says, "so you need a stronger basket," more reliable, more dependable, and bigger.

Virtualization can lead to storage over utilization, Eddy warns. You don't just have five servers any more, now you've got five physical servers each running five virtual servers -- all accessed through the same ports. And each server could be running a different architecture, creating new headaches for SMB IT generalists.

Don't Miss: The Four Flavors Of Virtualization: A Primer

The Problem Keeps Getting Bigger
According to Eddy, data storage needs for SMBs are growing at 40% per year. It's not just more files, either. Individual files are growing as well.

If that's not enough, SMBs are becoming more aware of the need for disaster recovery, which means storing copies of all that data in multiple locations. Oh, and then there are increasingly prescriptive data retention requirements from various government and regulatory agencies. It's not enough to take care of today's data, Eddy says, you need to be able to scale smoothly to handle even more data in the years to come.

How Are You Going To Manage It?
According to Eddy, an amazing 80% of storage-oriented operating expenses go to manage existing systems. To bring down that figure, Eddy says we need a few key changes:

  1. We need to change from "Recovery Mode" to "Resilient Mode." The idea is not to recover from crashes, but to keep the system from going down in the first place so you don't spend management cycles on recovery.
  2. We need to go from Hands On management to Hands Free management. Eddy says SMBs need simpler, wizard-driven management and automatic, set it and forget it functionality. For example, he says, "if there's a performance bottleneck, the system should identify it for you and give you suggestions on how to fix it. And then let you click a button and go and just do it."
  3. SMBs need a centralized, worldwide view of their storage systems, and they need to be able to make upgrades without bringing down the system.

A Cloudy Future For Storage?
Cloud computing seems to promise solutions to all of these problems. Or at least to make them someone else's problems, which is almost as good.

But while Eddy acknowledges that "there's a place for the cloud," in SMB storage, he cites latency issues as a limiting factor for storage of large amounts of data. You don't want to be too far away from your key data, he says. Even for backups, bandwidth costs and time delays come into play when trying to retrieve mroe than small amounts of data. He says the cloud is best suited for long-term archiving of data that your company is unlikely to need very often.

As a storage vendor, it's not surprising that NEC is cautious about cloud-based storage. But there are lots of storage applications where relatively small amounts of data need to be accessed at any given time, and cloud storage could be more than adequate for many of these situations. And it's especially well suited for making data available to multiple locations and to remote or traveling workers.

Don't Miss: 9 Cloud Storage Services For Your Business

But don't let the cloud obscure Eddy's larger points about FUD in the storage arena. There's a lot of confusion out there, and there's enormous value in simplifying what SMBs have to do store their data.

See more columns by Fredric Paul
Follow Fredric Paul on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/TheFreditor

Fredric Paul is publisher/editor-in-chief of bMighty.com and SmallBizResource.com.

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