Smaller businesses that compete against larger ones do have a few advantages, the most important being that they are more nimble. The agility inherent in being small means that smaller companies should be able to react to business opportunities or other situations more rapidly than their larger competitors. This is of course a result of inertia - the same law of physics that enables a PT boat to turn more rapidly than a battleship.
If small companies can't react quickly against the juggernauts, they get into trouble. Battleships do eventually turn, even if it takes them a long time to do it, and heaven help the PT boat or small business that gets in their way.
Smaller companies have many disadvantages when they challenge larger competitors, and nowhere is this clearer than when we compare how companies treat their data.
At its most basic, the difference is often that large companies have IT staffs and make investment in IT a standard part of their budgeting process, often treating it as a key piece of their strategic planning. Smaller companies (and less strategically-minded larger ones) may have little or no IT staffing, and often tend to treat IT as an afterthought.
Larger companies that invest in IT do so because they realize that IT investment has less to do with technological superiority than with keeping their businesses competitive. Simply put, keeping the data fresh and online so their sales team can refer to it and so they can send the bills out on time is given top priority. Eventually, as these large IT installations get increasingly sophisticated and can enable greater levels of business agility, many smaller companies will begin to lose their advantage in this area. Large insurance companies will be able to jump on business opportunities as rapidly as the small guys, and the dynamic will change.
The first step for small companies that want to compete is to ensure their data is always available. This means having a good backup and recovery solution.
For companies that are so small that they don't even have an IT staff, this means a good backup and recovery solution that is bundled with an appliance.
Why? Because an appliance-based solution will be simple to manage - it should conform to the rule of "set it and forget it" - and it should not be economically challenging to buy. The goal should be an affordable system that, once it has been installed, allows the owners of the business to stop trying to be IT jocks and lets them get back to doing whatever it is that makes them money.
What should you look for in an appliance? The following:
- An easy installation, with no integration issues.
- When it comes out of the box, it should be ready to use.
- It should be an all-in-one solution.
- It should have some method of control so that only the people you designate can access it.
- If anything goes wrong, you should only have to dial up one vendor (and not one for the software and another for the hardware).
- It should be able to serve your needs well into the future.
Appliances are built with efficiency in mind, so when you open the box they should provide you with everything you need (keep in mind that you want to buy a solution to your problem, and not a bunch of products in a box). An appliance that requires elaborate set up and lots of phone calls to install is no appliance at all.
Several vendors offer appliances for backup and recovery. You might want to look at Breece Hill's iStoRA 4000, Data Domain's DD200 and, if you are particularly price-conscious, at Intradyn's RocketVault. If smaller companies can protect their data as well as the big guys, they will find it much easier to compete when the big guys learn how to go after their customers.
Mike Karp is senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, focusing on storage, storage management and the methodology that brings these issues into the marketplace. He has spent more than 20 years in storage, systems management and telecommunications.