A storage area network (SAN) comprises the most powerful technology available for block-level storage and has been used by enterprises for years. For many SMBs, though, SANs were long out of reach due predominately to their high cost. In addition, many SMBs simply did not have the need for large amounts of scalable storage space and were therefore able to function adequately using direct-attached storage.
Two underlying factors have changed the storage landscape and have made SANs more important and accessible to SMBs. The first is the recent explosion of digital data, and the second is the increasing availability of entry-level, feature-packed SANs that are specially priced and designed for SMBs.
According to IDC, the amount of digital information created, captured, or replicated in 2010 will amount to 1.2 zettabytes (1.2 trillion gigabytes). By 2020, IDC estimates this will balloon to 35 zettabytes or, in other words, 35 trillion gigabytes.
As a result of this massive growth in data, SMBs will face a number of challenges in the coming years as they try to deal with the increasing flow of information.
First, SMBs do not necessarily have standardised data storage, backup, recovery, or archiving methods. This is due in part to cost constraints, and due in part to existing behavioral norms. While there is now more digital content to handle than ever, resources at SMBs have stayed at the same levels. With limited resources, many SMBs are forced to be very cost-conscious and might not even have someone on staff dedicated to IT backup. Additionally, IT staff at SMBs may not be able to keep up with the increasing flow of data.
Given the limited resources, many SMBs may not have developed systematic ways to handle backups. Disk space is relatively cheap so many SMBs simply buy more disk space on an ad hoc basis and neglect to consider the moment when they might need to perform a comprehensive backup. Those who have had the misfortune of having to recover data are exposed to the nightmare caused by haphazard backups and the existence of fragmented information located across multiple servers and storage elements. Lucky SMBs would have been able to recover data after spending an excruciating amount of time, while many more are confronted with the reality that their inadequate backups have caused them to permanently lose important business data.
Second, as the amount of data grows, data protection becomes crucial. Backups, as noted above, are vitally important, but additional redundancy infrastructure is now a necessity, given the constant inflow of data. It is crucial to keep the amount of time it takes to recover data in case of a failure (a concept called "recovery time objective" or RTO) as short as possible so that downtime is minimal. In addition, it is important to do backups frequently in order to minimize the amount of data that could be lost (commonly known as "recovery point objective" or RPO). If a SMB performs a backup at the end of a business day but its system fails in the middle of the next day, a half day's worth of valuable data is lost.
Third, data does not necessarily equate to useable information unless it can be easily sorted and readily accessed. Without a means to catalog the growing amount of data, it merely becomes a steadily growing collection of bits and bytes that can suffocate SMBs who rely on manual methods to access it. In addition, many SMBs are scattered across multiple locales, and trying to organise and access data in multiple locations and jurisdictions can be a doubly impossible task without the right tools.
Fourth, SMBs need to utilise resources efficiently to squeeze what they can out of their investments. This is a key point in the context of data storage. Preventative care is essential in order to minimise total cost of ownership. Failure to address storage and recovery issues with foresight can mean that an SMB is one catastrophe away from enduring a devastating loss of valuable business information. Preventative care is not only prudent, but it is an effective use of resources that will maximise return on investment.
Look around the marketplace today, and you will see that a large number of vendors now offer middle-range and entry-level SANs that are both priced and scaled for SMBs. SANs have become commoditised and plummeted in price while their feature sets have gotten better and better. It is to the benefit of SMBs that they learn as much as they can about the options available in the market.
This type of next generation SAN aligns itself perfectly with both the resources available to and the needs of SMBs. The future is now for SMBs: enterprise-level data protection that is cost effective, secure, scalable, energy-saving, economical, and easy to use, install, and maintain is well within reach.
The growth of data will continue at an exponential rate. Certainly, in the near future, there will be seismic shifts in the way SMBs approach data storage, management, and protection in order to deal with this reality. SMBs will begin to explore virtualisation strategies and will try to control the tide of data growth using data deduplication. In addition, cloud computing will play a role in data storage, as online storage services will become more prevalent and affordable going forward.
That said, it is vitally important that SMBs do not get too lost in the big picture or in hypothetical scenarios. SMBs simply need to look at their data storage, management, and protection situations here and now, and ascertain what is necessary and viable to grow their businesses in an efficient manner today. The answer lies not in some complex solution but instead, in an entry-level, next generation SAN.
Scott Tam is Huawei Symantec's Head of International Business Development.