NAS, virtualized, or cloud—it all depends on your needs
World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee said, “Data is a precious thing and will last longer than the systems themselves.” So true. But data is only as useful as your storage plan. Data that’s scattered all over your company on PCs, laptops, and smartphones or other personal devices can be hard to manage and susceptible to loss. If this sounds familiar, it might be time to revamp your storage strategy.
Small businesses have access to the same storage options as the biggest corporations, but that doesn’t mean those options are necessarily appropriate or cost-effective for you. For instance, you may not have the funds for or need to hire a full-time IT person, much less a dedicated storage expert. So the solution you choose should be easy to manage. It should also be easy to expand, because the third certainty in life after death and taxes is that you will need to buy more storage.
Let’s look at your choices:
- Network attached storage. Unlike a general-purpose file server, a network attached storage device, a.k.a. NAS (pronounced naz), is a an appliance that is built with hardware and software specialized for storage. For instance, it usually does not have a keyboard or screen, and configuration is done via a web browser. It’s the easiest option here for small companies to set up and manage. In addition, Cisco NSS300 Series Smart Storage includes on-disk data encryption, the only such small business NAS currently on the market.
- Storage area network. A storage area network (SAN) solution connects an array of hard drives to a server and delivers data in small blocks instead of entire files, which makes it a good choice for companies with employees who are heavy email or database users. However, SAN solutions are more difficult to manage than NAS devices.
- Virtual storage. This option is good for growing companies that have multiple on-site servers, including NAS devices. Virtualized storage lets you combine multiple storage devices into a single, virtual storage resource. By assigning storage to users no matter where it’s located on the network, you can optimize server capacity and performance.
- Cloud. System crashes, viruses, natural disasters, hardware theft—any of these could result in damaging data loss. Cloud backup, the practice of making copies over the Internet for safekeeping, is the latest hot option for data protection. Cloud storage relieves you of the decision-making process and expense of buying hardware or choosing a physical off-site location. It’s a good solution for customer information, financial information, or any other business-critical data that requires absolute protection. You can also combine NAS and cloud backup for more comprehensive data protection. For example, Cisco NSS300 Series Smart Storage, a NAS solution, includes an optional subscription to the Mozy cloud backup service.
“In reality, most companies will eventually use a hybrid of these options,” says Mike Karp, vice president and principal analyst at Ptak/Noel, an IT consultancy. Because even in small businesses, users have different needs.