Sophisticated Storage Solutions for Small Businesses

The accelerating growth of data has been a major factor in determining storage needs in every business segment from the smallest mom-and-pop enterprise to the Global 100. But in many ways, data growth puts more stress on small businesses than on their larger counterparts. Like other companies, small businesses have much more data around which they have to wrap their arms. But unlike their larger counterparts, small businesses often don't have access to affordable tools to help them with this task. As Ellen Rome, vice president of sales and marketing at STORServer, a vendor of backup appliances, puts it, "You can't use the same gardening tools you used to take care of \[a\] little vegetable patch to plow an acre of land. And, in reality, that is what is happening."

Indeed, if you ask many small-business operators whether they're confident that they could recover from a disaster, they hem, haw, and hang their heads sheepishly. Many aren't sure whether their backups work. Most don't have a well-thought-out recovery plan that they can quickly activate in the event of a disaster.

Part of the problem is that the technology typically at small businesses' disposal isn't sufficient to do an adequate job. Very small businesses might adopt the same approach that many home computer users use to back up their data: making duplicate files by dragging and dropping them onto removable media. Although this approach can work, it's risky for businesses because it relies on individuals to proactively back up their work. And because files are constantly being overwritten, this approach offers only a single point of recovery.

A more common and responsible method is for a small business to use a tape drive to do incremental backups of its servers every day and full backups weekly and monthly. But this approach, although straightforward, can be labor intensive and has pitfalls. Restoring data from incremental backups is complicated, and errors frequently result. And while full backups provide an exact copy of every file and folder selected, performing them can take a significant amount of time and require a lot of tapes.

That isn't the end of the difficulties that small businesses face. Even if they have a process in place to back up all their important data, they must balance the need to be able to restore individual files with the need for disaster recovery. Businesses that keep tapes on site so they're available should a specific file need to be restored are at risk should a true disaster occur, but moving the tapes offsite means that users who need to restore a single corrupted file have to wait for a specific tape to be retrieved from a remote location.

Finally, in large organizations, the thinking about backups has shifted. In the corporate world, backups are typically implemented according to policies established for individual users and servers--a method that provides much more control over storage. But small-business owners need to spend their time thinking about their business, not their storage policies.

Help for small businesses that face these challenges is on the way. With the emergence of low-cost ATA and Serial ATA (SATA) hard disk technology and Windows Storage Server 2003, companies are introducing backup appliances that provide disk-to-disk backup at a price point that small businesses with as few as 10 employees and as little as 300GB of data can afford. By using these backup appliances in conjunction with a tape drive or perhaps a DVD drive, very small businesses can build a more supple storage infrastructure for backup and disaster recovery.

Earlier this month, Unitrends Software introduced a new line of what it calls Data Protection Units (DPUs) that are reasonably priced for small businesses. And at Storage World Conference 2004 in June, STORServer introduced its STORServer D1 backup appliance, a turnkey, Plug and Play (PnP) product for small businesses. "They can plug it into the wall and into the network and within 15 minutes they are in production," Rome said.

The emergence of backup appliances for small businesses mirrors the response that large-scale enterprises have had to the data explosion: The storage infrastructure must be layered, but those layers must work together and be easy to manage to solve the problems they're meant to address.

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