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The importance of backing up

There is nothing like losing a day’s worth of important documents to de-motivate even the most driven business owner. Getting back-up and storage right is crucial for any SME.

Small companies are very good at what they do because they are agile, responsive and capable. They possess these attributes because they are passionate and driven to succeed in their chosen field.

Generally speaking their IT does not share the same characteristics! It tends to be ad hoc and not based on a real IT plan or strategy. IT investments tend to be made as a matter of survival and evolve as a business grows. Start with a few networked PCs, then add a server for file management and email. Hang some storage on it and a tape drive to back it all up, maybe. This backup tape may be stored offsite, but generally speaking isn’t, and can often be found in the draw by the server or tape drive. In larger installations an auto loader for tapes, or a small library might exist.

Why is an important asset like data and information managed in an ad-hoc manner? This is often because many SMEs base their IT ‘plans’ on traditional thinking, or what they have learnt from previous experiences from years ago when business owners were working in large companies with traditional processes. This is not a recipe for success.

Many SMEs began their businesses based on innovative, ground-breaking and growth-oriented strategies and goals. They should therefore apply the same thinking that they have developed in their own products, which are innovative and capable of growing on demand, and apply this in their storage and backup solutions.

Today’s business is all about customer contact and business systems that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Businesses need to stay online all the time to remain agile, responsive and capable. How do you design a storage infrastructure with this in mind while staying cost-effective and having the ability to reduce management costs?

Begin by thinking about a shared storage framework and modern technologies for backup. The storage environment has evolved and what was once the sole domain of the mainframe and large system is now available and scalable in size and costs for smaller scale businesses. Traditionally we had to back up everything we could in case we lost a disk, and the data with it. Today that risk is much less, but we still need to insure against data corruption, by both fair means (staff errors,) or foul (hacked systems).

New technologies speed up the time taken to restore data. Suddenly the long days of recovery from tape media are gone. Using good backup technologies allows the “copy of data” to be almost instant. It is space efficient so multiple copies can be taken every four hours with very little impact to space. That means that the data that can be recovered from the data recovery point is so much closer to the data loss point the amount of data or information lost is reduced significantly. If businesses place a dollar value on data and information, the ability to protect this as an important asset will be a high priority. Businesses can now bring their systems back on faster and the revenue generating components of their business productivity is not as significantly impacted by downtime.

With greater efficiencies in backup and restore technologies, companies will only need a copy of their data on a remote disk system in another geographic location to protect against the loss of data in a disaster such as a fire or flood. Data copied to the remote site can then be used as the primary backup to restart a business’ operations once the servers or PCs are rebuilt.

Quick access to stored data also is important as businesses of all sizes struggle to meet increased compliance, regulation and e-discovery requirements. SMEs face the same regulation as corporates, but without the same resources to manage their requirements. Today’s storage systems not only allow SMEs to secure and keep data, but to search for data quickly and easily.

As businesses become more agile and responsive to market demands, so have today’s storage systems evolved to become smarter. Software has made backup and storage simpler and more scalable for small businesses. Having the right software environment will provide all the ‘smarts’ business owners need to manage their storage requirements from the smallest to the largest storage system. It will ensure their systems are scalable and can grow according to their business needs. This might involve re-evaluating the use of older technology such as tape for backup.

Innovation requires businesses to rethink the way they operate and this applies to departing from familiar technologies so agility and real savings can be realised in the process.

Five Tips For Selecting SME Storage

  1. Bring in a trusted advisor to help navigate the ‘tech speak’ and help select a storage option that suits your business’ needs.
  2. Simplicity is key. Select a storage option that will simplify your backup and storage processes.
  3. Plan for the future. Storage needs are dynamic and can be unpredictable. Ensure your investment can grow with your business and address your future needs as the business grows.  Look for a pay as you grow option, rather than investing in a lot of storage now won’t be used until down the track.
  4. Flexibility. Look for a product that can provide you with technology options. Network Attached Storage (NAS) may be the best option for your business today but Storage Area Network (SAN) may be in the future. Look for storage solutions that offer both technologies.
  5. Reliability. Ensure your solution will allow quick and easy access to data recovery. SMEs face many of the same fundamental backup and data protection concerns as enterprises but in some ways are even more vulnerable as they often do not have the budgets and internal IT expertise of larger enterprises.

The Tech Speak
Storage terms and what they mean:

  • Network Attached Storage (NAS): Best suited to handling file-based data such as documents and images.
  • Storage Attached Network (SAN): Comes in two types; iSCSI, which has an internet heritage, and Fibre Channel, which has an enterprise storage area. These are suited to higher performing applications.
  • Virtualisation: Contrary to popular wisdom, virtualisation is not just for large enterprises. SMEs are equally tired of server proliferation and storage underutilisation. Virtualisation offers storage and server manageability and meets the data reliability requirements of businesses.
  • RAID: (Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disk) describes a number of ways multiple disks can be presented to a host/server to improve reliability and reduce data loss. RAID can replicate storage across multiple disks.
  • Dual Parity: Provision of two parity drives in a RAID configuration, which meant that two drives could fail and the business would sustain no data loss.
  • Snapshot Copy: This is an evolved technology using pointers or an index to understand where the data resides, so a copy indexes the data. An update of snapshot data is written, but not over writing the original data, giving an opportunity to roll back to the previous version if required.
  • Data deduplication: An important new technology to control data proliferation. As data is created, distributed, backed up, and archived, duplicate data objects are stored unabated across all storage tiers. The end result is inefficient utilisation of data storage resources. By eliminating redundant data objects and referencing just the original object, an immediate benefit is obtained through storage space efficiencies and reduced storage costs. Also referred to as Single Instance Storage in some areas of technology.

-Roger Mannett is marketing director for NetApp Australia and New Zealand (www.netapp.com/au)

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Roger Mannett

Roger Mannett

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