The economic downturn may be hammering many small businesses, but it is not impacting the growth of their data storage requirements. In fact, opportunities abound for solution providers to help small-business clients better manage their storage and save money in the process. All it takes is a few key technologies and policies.
Three trends are driving the fast-growing need for small-business storage, said Stephen Allen, president of Integrated Technology Systems, a New York solution provider. The first is the fact that customers do not delete e-mails. Second is that they are scanning more documents into repositories that are not deleted. Third is that they are using applications that generate more and more .PDF and Word document files.
A few years ago, a business figured it might need triple or quadruple its capacity over the next two to three years, Allen said. "But in 2007 and 2008, when we designed an upgradable network, we used a factor of eight. So if the customer has 100 Gbytes of storage today, we figure 800 Gbytes over the next two to three years."
Small businesses are burning through storage capacity with things like downloading photos and putting files on the network without regard to the cost of managing that data, said Fred Moore, managing partner at Moore Computing, St. Louis.
"For example, a construction company might be storing 600 site photos at maximum resolution," Moore said. "There's no reason to store all those photos, or at that resolution. Or they may be using a multifunction printer to scan documents at 300 dpi with color. I suggest 200 dpi with black and white."
Technologies that help better manage storage and cut the need to buy new hardware are key, solution providers said. Server virtualization, for instance, simultaneously increases the need for storage while making it easier to manage. Combined with iSCSI, it allows solution providers to build low-cost, disaster-resistant infrastructures for small businesses, said Mitch Kleinman, president of Ryjac Computer Solutions, Irvine, Calif.
Customers can use the VMotion capability of VMware to connect two physical host servers and 3 TB to 5 TB of shared disk storage to allow the sharing of multiple virtual servers to build a high-availability infrastructure, Kleinman said.
Another important technology is e-mail management. Kleinman expects to see more e-mail management solutions combined with deduplication technologies to handle the growing volume of information that does not need to be stored in multiple copies. "A lot of companies in this space need to put best practices in place," he said.
Small businesses are also likely to be scanning and storing more documents for search and archive purposes and to decrease the physical and compliance risk of storing them in paper versions. Small businesses can take advantage of what used to be called HSM, or hierarchical storage management, to scan a document and store it with e-mails into an archive that can be backed up to disk or tape and then secured in an off-site location, Kleinman said. Only don't call it HSM, Kleinman said. "That's a big word for a small business," he said. "When you walk into a company that sells stools to restaurants, they don't want to hear about HSM. They want to hear what the solution will do for them."
A lot of small businesses are also looking to tiered storage, said Jeanne Wilson, president of Condor Storage, Sedona, Ariz. "They want to start moving data from primary storage because they have no budget for adding new capacity," she said. "One customer said he can't get rid of the music files users keep. Managers tell me they can't get people to delete things. They want to clear out files so they don't need to back them up, but they've had little success."
Small businesses also like traditional NAS appliances because of the cost, the ease of hooking them to the LAN and the fact that they eliminate the need for a dedicated file server, said Brian Lisse, owner of Madison Computer Works, a Madison, Wis.-based solution provider. "Plug it in, and turn it on," he said. "Just don't forget to back up the data. A lot of small businesses buy two and use the second one for backups."
Allen said his small-business customers prefer to move away from tape to a NAS or SAN appliance like Hewlett-Packard Co.'s All-in-One or SonicWall Inc.'s continuous data protection, which handles version control and replication.
Another opportunity is customers who work with brand-name vendors like EMC Corp. or HP but are becoming more open to working with lower-cost second-tier vendors, Wilson said. n
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