Storage and the small and midsize business

A storage-area network is typically described as the most efficient mechanism for providing high performance, well-managed storage but up until recently, a SAN has been beyond the reach of most smaller companies. I say "beyond the reach" for two reasons: the upfront capital expenditures associated with buying and installing the technology, and the ongoing operational expense associated with maintaining a SAN.

Small and midsize businesses have many of the same challenges and priorities as their enterprise-sized competitors: growing amounts of data, a high reliance on that data to conduct business, and restricted budgets. However, SMBs typically lack depth in IT experience and in many cases may even lack an IT department at all.

Although the numbers vary when it comes to amount of data stored and to the dollar value of the business being supported, it is a certainty that the data is just as vital to these smaller businesses as it is to their larger competitors. The major difference of course is that, lacking IT expertise in general and storage-specific expertise in particular, smaller companies are ill-equipped to compete with larger ones when it comes to IT efficiency.

What is the owner of a smaller business to do? During the last several years iSCSI has been touted as the technology that can provide a "SAN for the everyman," but its slow adoption rate could indicate that the everyman is less interested in SAN storage for smaller businesses than are the vendors. Remember however, that the finalized iSCSI standard is barely a year old, so maybe it is more a case of the vendors doing a poor job of informing the public of just what they have to offer. Or perhaps it is that the price points are still not within the comfort levels of the small-business manager.

Now less expensive Fibre Channel SAN devices are starting to appear (witness last week's announcement by EMC and Dell of the AX100, a US$10,000 SAN device that can handle up to 3T bytes of data), and at least one major host bus adapter (HBA) provider is about to announce a very inexpensive product suite aimed at SMBs. The product pricing for these is aggressive compared to other Fibre Channel gear, but buyers will have to make sure the day-to-day operational expenses of maintaining such products are below their pain threshold. If you are looking at these, brush up on your spreadsheet skills. Do the math.

In many cases, these devices will make good sense for midsize companies, but that will probably not be the case for smaller companies. For these, storage efficiencies are much more likely to come from the use of storage appliances that address specific IT requirements.

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