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June 9, 2010
By Leslie T. O'Neill
For many small businesses, their success hinges on their data—and they know it. They can no longer afford to trust their information to local client devices and ad-hoc backups. That's why many small businesses are adopting a storage strategy that revolves around centralized network storage devices that are not only affordable, robust, and scalable but that also can be managed by in-house staff with limited IT expertise.
"Small businesses have a lot of business-critical data and are now recognizing the importance of storage to their business. They're looking for a strategy to better organize and manage their storage needs. In the last two years, we've seen the small business demand for storage accelerate," says David Tucker, vice president and general manager of the Small Business Technology Group at Cisco. "They want a storage solution that provides security, encryption, speed, and flexibility."
Independent research firm IDC agrees. In a recent report about IT spending for 2010, IDC found that storage, especially storage hardware, is one of a few areas in which companies are planning to spend more of their IT dollars. In fact, small businesses reported being more likely to make new or increased investments in backup-to-disk projects than any other storage technology.
"Much of today's storage capital investments are aimed at making more efficient and reliable use of data, data storage, and data management resources," reports IDC in its 2010 IT Spending and Storage Budgets study.
One Powerful Device
Small businesses are choosing disk-based storage products in part for their flexibility. Network attached storage (NAS) devices, such as the Cisco NSS Series Smart Storage line, help small businesses manage most of their critical storage tasks with a single device, no matter how diverse the existing network environment. Most importantly, a powerful NAS device provides centralized storage and file sharing for every employee; it automatically backs up data from every client on the network. Additionally, the storage device protects a company's crucial data through secure remote access as well as data encryption.
"Small businesses have a lot of business-critical data and are now recognizing the importance of storage to their business."
— David Tucker, vice president and general manager, Cisco Small Business Technology Group
Disaster recovery is critical, so small businesses prefer hardware storage solutions that make it easy to bring data back online. According to Tucker, some companies install the network device in a second location while others load the full backup onto a removable drive that is then safely locked in a vault. Also, a network storage device that connects to cloud-based storage services gives small businesses future options for securing mission-critical information.
Jim Martin, managing director and chief technology officer at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors in Chicago, explains that small businesses need these robust, big business features in a storage device; however, they don't amount to much if they can't be easily managed.
"Many smaller companies don't have someone in-house who can manage server support, maintenance, and operating system concerns like updates. Some businesses don't even have a dedicated server room with environmental controls; they keep the storage appliance on a desktop or shelf in a closet," says Martin, who recently installed a Cisco NSS 300 Series Smart Storage device to do full backups to an off-site location.
"I chose a network storage appliance to replicate backups easily and cost effectively. There's no local IT support, so the appliance has to be reliable and be able to store a large amount of data efficiently," Martin says.
Going Beyond Storage
Some advanced NAS products can be used as a network appliance as well as a storage device. This helps smaller companies get more value from their IT purchases. For example, a small business can manage and deliver website content via the network storage device as well as stream videos to the website if the NAS is also running a web server. Running applications such as a web server on the storage appliance ensures continuous availability. It also reduces the amount of hardware a small business must license and maintain.
"The processors in these network storage devices are extremely powerful," says Tucker. "You have the ability to run a variety of applications. The main application may be storage but a lot of other applications could be added on—from an office productivity suite to an email server to a media server."
Tucker believes that a small business can even build its entire network around a NAS device. A company with simple needs could add a wireless router and a switch to the storage appliance for an easy, manageable, and expandable networking solution.
Storage Makes the Difference
Every small business is facing the same storage challenge—accommodating more and more files that just get bigger and bigger in size. There was a time when it seemed impossible that a small business could amass a terabyte (TB) of data. These days, however, they should expect to need multi-terabytes for their storage solutions.