Better data storage for SMEs

Better data storage for SMEs
Sunday, July 01, 2007
Sunday Business Post
By Cian Ginty

Costs are coming down and backup support via the internet is increasing for small businesses looking for effective data storage, writes Cian Ginty.

Data storage solutions for growing small firms are often scaled versions of those used by large enterprises.

But for these small firms, costs are coming down and backup support via the internet is increasing.

“The gap between small businesses and large enterprises in terms of storage is decreasing all the time,” said Gary Mellows, services manager at CA.

“The small companies are now looking beyond backup and recovery. Every business today is reliant on IT to some extent and becoming increasingly reliant.”

With hardware and software data storage techniques, as with other technology, the differences between small to multi-national businesses are decreasing.

Tom Keane of CMS Peripherals said that systems will be scaled down for smaller companies who will often not have IT departments.

“Many small businesses will be using stock standard hardware that you’d expect to find in larger enterprises as well,” said Keane.

“But they are typically scaled down to a size more suited to a small firm’s cost ability and simplified so that they are easy to manage.”

He said the basics remain generally the same.

“Generally speaking there are two classes of disk drives available. These are performance-centric drives, which are the fast disks that are used to drive the business, and capacitycentric drives, which are there to allow you to store a lot of content which might not need the utmost speed. The disk provides the storage and the tape provides backup.”

Although some firms are now using disk drives for backup, Keane said that this is still primarily a storage solution.

“Disk drives are still the key to primary storage and tape is very much the king where back up is concerned,” he said.

Support for small business is now also at a similar level to larger organisations, other experts say.

“The support that small firms get is generally quite similar to the support that the enterprise customers get,” said Damien Gill of Qualcom.

“From our perspective we treat them very much the same.”

When growing a business, pricing is a key factor for small firms, already under pressure from rising costs. The industry, generally, reports storage costs falling.

“Generally speaking, the cost of storage is coming down significantly,” said Brian Doyle, storage product manager at Fujitsu Siemens.

“So the small to medium enterprise that is growing can now afford to put in a scalable, sizable storage system that it couldn’t have afforded 18 months ago.”

CA’s Mellows claims that simply adding to capacity is a lazy answer that adds to costs unnecessarily and amounts to a short term fix.

“Traditionally, people have just thrown more and more storage capacity at it and businesses are now realising all the overheads and additional costs,” said Mellows.

“It’s a lazy answer to the problems they are facing.”

He said that firms who do full backups every night sometimes find that 50 per cent of the data is not of any value.

“You can’t archive that data until you have more visibility of what that data is, so you need to start classifying that data,” said Mellows.

“If they take the time to class the data they would free up capacity without having to invest in new storage. Classification is something we’re seeing a lot of and seems to be the next step.”

At a more basic level, there is a growing need to stop employees storing massive amounts of large music and video files from their personal collections on company storage devices.

This ranges from staff downloading MP3 music from the internet to transferring their iPod data over office data systems.

“One of the problems we’ve seen is where staff members bring in thirdparty copyrighted material,” said Gill.

“This is especially in relation to MP3 files and people bringing in their iPods and uploading all of their illegally downloaded music or videos on to the servers. Companies are ultimately responsible for data on their systems. We’ve found instances of this needing to be cleared out, particularly from smaller firms.”

Gill said that “systems have fallen over as a result’‘.

He said that there are software solutions to block this.

“It varies from business to business, but generally we’re seeing growth in data storage needs of between 40 to 50 per cent a year. E-mail storage is where we’re seeing a lot of growth with our smaller customers at the moment. Due to software restrictions, smaller firms used to have to be proactive in deleting a lot of e-mail. But they really don’t have to do that any more.”

Other executives say that the annual rate of growth might be even higher than 50 per cent.

“The figures vary hugely, up to 200 per cent annually,” said CMS’s Keane.

He said that e-mail is one of the key growth drivers across the board, and this is often due to regulatory complacence and firms keeping e-mails as “proof’‘.

He said that this will remain a growing factor.

“The regulations in Ireland are maybe not as stringent as they are in the US,” said Keane.

“But everybody’s expectation is that the regulations are going to get tighter and that the requirement to store more data for a longer period of time will drive data growth across the board.”

Dermot Mooney, chief executive of Central Databank, said that profiling is central to understanding data growth.

“The critical thing is to understand the profile of what’s there and how fast it will grow,” said Mooney.

“And then you can both control it and control the cost of monitoring it, backing it up, and storing it online.”

Data storage providers have a mixed reaction as to whether companies only look at backup systems after experiencing a major problem. Most storage providers outline a trend of companies being proactive. Many compare backup to an insurance policy.

“I’d say about 50 per cent of our customers come to us having had problems,” said Tim Murphy, managing director of Strencom.

“We often promote our services as an insurance policy. A company wouldn’t dare run a business from a building without fire insurance. Now, the likelihood of a fire happening is really minimal, while the likelihood of losing data from hardware is really high.”

Brian Doyle from Fujitsu Siemens has a different view.

“We would have very little interaction with customers who have had a disaster and want to put something in place after the event,” he said.

“Most of them would come to up planning to grow their business and to have a scalable IT infrastructure to allow that to take place.”

CA’s Mellows said that the approach of small firms toward back-up is changing.

“In the past it was something that businesses did reluctantly,” he said.

“Backing up data and data recovery was never sexy. I suppose that IT is more important to most businesses and that protecting their data is key.”

Mellows also said that the problems may not end just because a backup structure is in place.

“Nearly everybody now has some sort of backup and restore system but they don’t really know how well it is working,” he said.

“They have something in place that keeps the business happy until their fingers are burned. They have done everything that they have been asked to, including investing in a backup and restore solution. Even if their backups are running all the time, they don’t really test them and don’t really know how well they are working until something happens.”

CMS’s Keane said that other problems can arise. “Just because people have spent some money on buying and deploying a backup solution, they are not as regimental as they could be,” he said.

One of the main problems associated with the area of storage systems is human interaction, said Gill.

“The problems are predominately around the user end where people physically have to go and put tapes into systems on a daily bases in order to perform the backups,” he said.”That’s the main problem.”

However Doyle said that the “environment can be absolutely be automated to the extent that they wouldn’t need any daily interaction.”

Another problem area is making sure that the data storage solutions are in place.

Gill said that smaller personal data devices, such as some USB keys, can pose a security threat.

“Another problem is the theft of data,” said Gill.

“It’s a growing problem for customers. People who bring USB keys into companies have the ability to copy all of the data from a company’s system and walk away with it. It’s a growing problem for smaller firms.”

While backup storage systems are becoming increasingly automated another growing area is online backup from a remote site. This way, backups can happen outside of ordinary working hours so as to not affect the network speeds.

“What we’re finding is that a certain amount of our customers are turning towards online back-up systems,” said Gill.

“We work with a company called Savenet where the user puts agent onto their servers. Then, on a nightly basis, their systems are backed up via the internet to a central location.”

Murphy said out that online backup storage has been “around for a while, but is only beginning to get attention in recent times.

“I think what is happening is that is a lot of companies haven’t upgraded their systems since theY2K bug issue of 2000.

“So a lot of companies have been reviewing their systems in the last 12 months as they have six or seven year old software in place,” said Murphy.

The trend of recent growth in the online sector is echoed by Dermot Mooney, chief executive at Central Databank.

“Back-up has gone from about third or fourth on the agenda to being the number one item on the agenda,” he said.

“Three years ago we were banging against very stiff doors when we were trying to promote the activity.”

Murphy said that firms are reluctant to store offsite at first, but points out that the data is encrypted once it leaves a client’s system and stays encrypted on their servers.

“What we’re finding is that companies are a bit slow to store their data offsite unless they know all the ins and outs of it,” said Murphy.

“The data transfer is encrypted. When it’s stored on the server it’s also encrypted. This is even to the extent that the customer has their own key for encrypting and decrypting it. But if they lose that password, we can’t get the data back for them so we don’t have access. We can see the files but it’s no good to us without the encryption key.”

Storing data offsite may also fulfil security requirements. Murphy said that while large US-listed companies will have a requirement for offsite storage since 9/11, many smaller firms supplying large business also want to be able to show such requirements are filled.

“While they don’t need to be as compliant, small companies like to be up to a similar standard so they can quote that they do use best practice, even though they are not required by law,” said Murphy.

Mooney said that trust is only one element in explaining the growth in recent years.

“I think technology has got to a point where it can prove the trustworthiness of data storage,” he said.

“But I think it’s more to do with function and that online storage can deliver an automated solution.”

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