Buyers’ guide: Data storage
Keeping your data safe is paramount to the success of your business. We assess the data storage options available to start-ups
It is thought there is as much as 1.2 zettabytes (1.3 trillion gigabytes) of digital data in the world today. This includes everything from photos and music files to company email and essential work documents. It would take 75 million 16GB Apple iPad 2 tablets to store all this data, which is more than enough to cover the entire pitch at Wembley Stadium.
The sad news is, only a fraction of this data is actually backed up and stored correctly. Data storage is one of those critical areas of any business that is often overlooked – even more so for the small business, or sole trader, who tends to have nothing in place until the worst happens and everything is lost.
After all, if you lose a laptop, or a PC or printer breaks down, it’s easy to replace in physical terms. But lose an important document, or have a hard drive fail on you, and without a copy of your files it’s irreplaceable. That’s why having a data storage solution in place, no matter how small or large your company, is vital to success.
Data storage: what to consider
There seems to be as many forms of data storage and back-up on the market as there are needs for it. However, here we’ll look an array of options, from the most basic to more comprehensive solutions.
When considering data, it’s easy to just think about the files and folders you’re working on right now. However, you also need to consider the archive data your company has accumulated over time, which may not be accessed regularly, that still needs to be stored. You also need to consider how you store your operations – the software applications and tools you have stored on your computers.
Data storage costs have tumbled in recent years and are now at an all-time low, but when it comes to choosing the right amount of storage you can never have too much. As a rule of thumb, the start-up company should be looking at having twice the amount of storage as your current PC holds. For example, if your laptop has a 500GB hard drive, consider having a 1TB hard disk to back up to. In this way you can back up your current drive as well as hold all your archive files and company software.
Data storage options for the start-up company
For the start-up or sole trader, who may be using a single PC or laptop, the easiest way to back up files from your PC is to use a memory stick. This is essentially a removable flash memory device that consists of a solid-state chip with a USB connector. Drives come in a host of sizes, from 2GB (£4 inc. VAT) up to 32GB (£20 inc. VAT) and are a quick way to back up low-level files and data.
Also known as thumb drives, due to their relatively small size, memory sticks are also a great way to quickly share data between machines, perfect if you don’t have a network set-up. We wouldn’t recommend backing up archive data or using for long-term storage, but as a back-up for your current working files such devices are ideal.
DVD / Blu-Ray
Optical discs are a commonly used and low-cost solution for backing up company data for the small business user. The benefits are clear; almost all PCs and laptops now come with a DVD-writer as standard, so you don’t need to buy any additional hardware, and discs offering up to 4.7GB of storage cost mere pence to buy.
If your needs are bigger, then opting for a Blu-ray drive as an upgrade to your computer, or as a standalone external drive, costs less than £75 (inc. VAT) with the benefits that discs can hold up to 50GB of data each.
Optical discs make a great solution for archived data, those files you may only need to access occasionally and won’t need to change or alter. However, it’s not so flexible for those files you’re still working on as you’ll need to be constantly backing up each version.
A word of warning when using optical discs for data storage: not only will you need to budget for back-up software, which is readily available from the likes of Symantec, Acronis and Genie for as little at £30 (inc. VAT) per licence, you’ll also need to be highly methodical in documenting which folders are on which disc.
With the cost of hard disk storage being at an all-time low, hard drives can make the most cost-effective solution for your business. A hard disk drive has a spinning disk, or platter, inside that is read using a magnetic reading head, a bit like a highly evolved record player. Data is magnetically written to the disk and depending on the speed of the drive is a quick and easy way not only to back up data but also access it again.
For the start-up business, using a hard drive solution can be as simple as having an external hard drive permanently attached to your workstation PC. Using back-up software you can schedule for your files and data to be backed up at the end of the working day.
There are a range of hard drive options to choose from. The smallest are known as portable hard drives, as they use a 2.5-inch drive – the same as found in laptops – and are intended to be used for backing up files on the move. Powered by your laptop, it’s simply a case of plugging in the USB cable and you can access your data. When it comes to pricing, you’ll find a 500GB drive costs around £60 (inc. VAT).
External hard drives use the larger 3.5-inch variety of hard drive, the same as in your desktop PC. Such drives are cheaper and offer more capacity space but they need their own power source, so tend to only be used in office environments. In terms of pricing, you’ll find that 500GB costs around £40 (inc. VAT), with 1TB costing £50 (inc. VAT) and even 2TB drives costing as little as £65 (inc. VAT), so buying larger drives certainly offers a better investment.
Network assisted storage
If your company has a network and you’re looking to share data then a NAS (network assisted storage) solution will be the most convenient. In its most basic form this is a large capacity hard drive attached to the network, and compared to older file servers offers faster data access, easier administration, and most importantly simple configuration processes.
If you’re on a tight budget and your data back-up needs are minimal then it may well be worth considering using an online solution. Cloud computing is slower than a fixed network but as long as you have an internet connection you can easily access your data.
You’ll find there are a host of solutions, but the most accessible for the small business are simple drag-and-drops tools, such as Dropbox or SugarSync. Both offer up to 2GB of data for free and simply require you to install a small access app on your PC. If you need more, or wish to add greater levels of security, you’ll need to pay a monthly fee but it still represents a great way of storing your data.
Top five hard drive manufacturers
If you’re looking to buy a hard drive, either as an upgrade to your PC or as an external unit, there are a host of manufacturers on the market. The likes of Toshiba, Hitachi and Samsung tend to sell directly to components builders and not directly to the public. Here we look at the top five companies who sell a selection of hard drive solutions to the consumer and business user.
If you’ve ever bought a hard drive for your home PC or laptop, then it’s likely to have been a Western Digital, also known as WD, as the company offers a wide array of cost-effective solutions. Western Digital offers network solutions, as well as standalone external units under the MyBook brand name.
Single capacity drives currently support up to 3TB in capacity, while RAID systems offer up to 6TB in a single box. If you’re looking for a portable hard drive, look for the name My Passport, which comes with capacities up to 1TB in size. Find out more at Western Digital.
Freecom is a German-based company that puts a great deal of emphasis on the design and operation of its external hard drives boxes. With network-based systems as well as desktop and mobile the company goes for a simple and elegant design.
Where we think Freecom truly excels is in its choice of hard drives for the mobile user, as the company offers two different designs. Firstly, there is a slim and light Mobile Drive XXS, which is the slimmest 2.5-inch drive in the world, or the Tough Drive, which as the name suggests is designed with durability in mind. Find out more at Freecom.
Established designers such as Neil Poulton bring an elegance not normally associated with data storage, making LaCie drives highly suitable to the CEO’s desk as well as the IT manager’s. What’s more, the LaCie Minimus drive is the slimmest desktop drive on the market and still offers up to 2TB of storage space.
Like Freecom, LaCie has an eye on the rugged market by producing the LaCie Rugged XL portable drive, which can be used in some of the roughest environs in the world without fear of damage. If you’re looking for something with a little more elegance, then check out the LaCie Porsche Design P’9221, a partnership between LaCie and the famous car company. Find out more at LaCie.
Seagate is best known for its range of internal hard drives, particularly its super-fast Barracuda range, but has recently rebranded its external solutions under the GoFlex brand name. For desktop users you can choose the GoFlex Pro, which offers up to 3TB of storage space in either USB 3.0 or FireWire configurations and is built around a single 7200rpm drive.
Mobile users looking for a slim portable hard drive should check out the GoFlex, which is a standard 2.5-inch laptop drive in a thin but hard-wearing cover. With capacities up to 1.5TB on offer you’ll find this a highly flexible solution. Find out more at Seagate.
Verbatim made its name as the leading CD-ROM and DVD-ROM manufacturer but in recent years has branched out into hard drives better suited to the small operator than the larger company. Under the name of Store ‘n’ Save you’ll find a range of drives offering support for Windows as well as Mac OS systems, along with the latest USB 3.0 connection speeds, all with capacities of up to 3TB.
For the mobile user, Verbatim offers the Store ‘n’ Go range of hard drives, which offer up to 1TB of storage space in a compact and colourful enclosure. However, its latest drive is the Store ‘n’ Go Executive, which doesn’t offer as much in the way of storage capacity, but is better suited to the business user on the go as it packs in USB 3.0 data transfer speeds as well as 256bit AES Hardware Encryption for the highest data security yet. Find out more at Verbatim.