A buyers’ guide to data storage options for business

Data rarely gets the pulse racing – unless you're not backed up and the system crashes. Growing Business takes a look at data storage solutions and how to know what you need

It’s thought there is currently around 1.2 zettabytes (1.3 trillion gigabytes) of digital information being stored around the world and sadly for many users, only a small part of this data is actually backed up and stored correctly. The task is one of the chief responsibilities of the IT manager and his or her team but if you’re growing business doesn’t have this infrastructure in place, it’s vital you address it or risk the kind of disruption that raises your blood pressure to unwanted highs.

After all, if a PC or printer breaks down, or a laptop is left in the back of a taxi, it’s easy to replace the hardware. Lose vital information and you’re not only opening your company up to a potential security breach but in the case of hard drive failure it’s irreplaceable. That’s why having a data storage solution in place, no matter how small or large your company, is essential to the smooth running of your growing business. 

Data storage: what to consider

Getting to grips with data storage isn’t easy, as there are easily as many forms of data storage and backup on the market as there are needs for it. However, when considering data, you need to think beyond the files and folders you’re working on right now, as you also need to consider the archive data your company has accumulated over time, which may not be accessed regularly but still needs to be stored. Finally, consider how you store your operations, the software applications and tools you have running on your computers. 

There was a time when all backup data storage was handled by tape, a slow and laborious process that would often take all night to accomplish. Thankfully, those days are largely over thanks to the relatively low-cost of large capacity hard disks, which are not only faster but also more reliable to use.

To give you some idea of how cheap data storage capacities are, online storage provider Rackspace recently produced an infographic on data storage costs of the last decade. The company found that in 2000 an average 1GB of storage cost $19.70 (£12), but by 2010 that self-same 1GB cost a mere $0.06 (3p).With costs at an all-time low there really is no reason not to have a solution in place.

Data storage costs may be at their lowest levels 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 backup your current drive as well as hold all your archive files and company software.

Backup options for your growing business

Hard drives make the most cost-effective solution for your business, as they’re not only cheap but also fast and reliable. A hard disk drive comprises a spinning disk, or platter, inside an enclosed box that is read using a magnetic reading head, a bit like a highly evolved record player. The speed of the hard drive, which can range from 5400rpm (Revolutions Per Minute) to 7200rpm, with higher speeds being developed all the time, will have an effect on how quickly you can save or copy data.

The hard drive itself isn’t the only thing you’ll need to backup files, as you’ll also need to install backup software so you can schedule for your files and data to be backed up at the end of the working day, typically, or even whenever changes are made to important documents.

Depending on the size of your growing business, you may find that in its formative stages the easiest way for employees to backup data is to have an external hard drive attached to their PC and to backup data overnight. 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 cost as little as £65 (inc. VAT), so buying larger drives certainly offers a better investment.

However, there will come a time when the most effective way of backing up and sharing data is with the creation of a company network. Once this is in place, the addition of 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. Aside from being most cost-effective – you only need to buy one drive for all your files as opposed to one external hard drive per terminal, you’ll find this is the easiest way to share and backup data.

NAS systems, compared to older file servers’, offer faster data access, easier administration, and most importantly simple configuration processes, so even if you don’t have a full-time IT manager, adding one to your network and setting up user privileges won’t be a hardship.

RAID systems

When it comes to backing up data, it’s worth considering backing up twice. After all, hard drive technology is cheap and reliable enough as an everyday storage medium but it’s a volatile technology with moving parts so prone to failure. All hard drives tend to come with a five-year warranty but with so many moving variables there is no guarantee how long any one drive will physically last, so having a backup of a backup is standard business practice.

In technology terms this is known as RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) and is a way, either using software or hardware, of creating a second backup of your data. There are six levels of RAID technology but most business users only concern themselves with the first three and in terms of data storage, it is RAID 1 that is the most important. By backing data up to multiple disks, also known as mirroring, RAID 1 minimises the potential threat of your primary hard drive failing and you losing all your data.

SANs (Storage Area Networks)

Storage Area Networks (SANs) look and act to the end user as though it were any other standard attached drive, so is often confused with a NAS drive. However, the big difference is that while a NAS shares the same server space as your LAN (Local Area Network) network, SAN systems use hardware and software and are set up on a separate server. The hardware is comprised of the storage drives, while the software monitors activity so the network runs as fast as possible without having an impact on access.

SAN solutions can be onsite or offsite, depending on the size of your company and the resources you need but the main reason for having the SAN on its own server is that should your network fail, for any reason, you’ll still have backed up records of all your data.   

Cloud Computing

In this modern age of computing there is no need to consider ever having to buy a hard drive again, as the advent of Cloud Computing means you can upload it to the web. Cloud storage is generally handled by third-party providers who run colossal data centres, so can offer your company large amounts of storage space for a fraction of the price it would cost you to physically buy. The main reason for using Cloud storage is the flexibility. If you need to add extra storage space you don’t need to physically go out and buy it, you can simply place a call with the service provider and it will be made available.  It’s worth bearing in mind that if you’re using Cloud Computing for your company you’ll need to have a fast and reliable internet connection at all times. Also, you’ll find that data transfer rates tend to be slower than those of a fixed network. Again, this will be affected by the quality of your data connection, as well as the number of users sharing the connection. For smaller companies, Cloud Computing works best as a backup solution, allowing you to upload all your information overnight to a safe, secure and offsite location that is independent of your local network. In this way, it’s potentially the most cost-effective solution for those companies that are quickly growing and in need of a flexible, rather than fixed, solution.

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.

Western Digital

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 they offer a wide array of cost-effective solutions. The company 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. Find out more at Western Digital http://www.wdc.com/en/

Freecom

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. Find out more at Freecom http://www.freecom.com/

LaCie

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 managers. What’s more, the LaCie Minimus drive is the slimmest desktop drive on the markets and still offers up to 2TB of storage space. Find out more at LaCie http://www.lacie.com/uk

Seagate

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. Find out more at Seagate http://www.seagateactive.com

Verbatim

Verbatim made its name as the leading CD-ROM and DVD-ROM manufacturers 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. Find out more at Verbatim http://www.verbatim.com

 

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