DESPITE data storage being a key enabler of business services, embracing new technologies to support this data growth is not always a straight forward exercise.
Storage can represent a huge investment for a small or medium business (SMB), and it is important to be able to demonstrate a strong return on that outlay.
With data growing at an unprecedented rate, SMBs are looking to maximise the efficiency of how they store and manage data throughout its entire lifecycle to keep costs down and productivity up.
SMBs often undergo unexpected growth which means the data requirement grows too.
One way companies have dealt with this is by expanding their datacentres but this often ends up being costly, inefficient and complex to manage which can lead to an IT infrastructure that is simply unable to cope with increased demands.
It's easy to make the wrong choices when looking to solve the data growth problem, but the consequences of this can be enormous and hold businesses back at a time when they're looking to expand.
Recent independent research conducted on behalf of Dell and Intel shows that 63% of small businesses in Europe store more than one terabyte of data on their servers. Around a third of small businesses in Britain (37%), France and Benelux (both 34%) and Germany (31%) store more than 2 terabytes of data.
Server capacity can be under-utilised however. Usage rates are noticeably affected by company size with close to a third (30%) of companies with 24 or fewer employees using less than 25% of their server capacity compared with only 11% in companies with 25 to 100 employees. 80% of companies fall within the 25% to 75% usage rate and only 4% of companies achieve 75-100% capacity usage.
Around one in six small businesses in Europe are currently using less than 25% of their server capacity and there was broad consistency across each country researched. This seems to point to the fact that companies can handle the data explosion but in reality it points to poor storage management.
In fact, the management of data in all its forms represents one of the biggest challenges for SMBs. Data lies at the core of many businesses, and without it a company's ability to operate effectively is compromised. The winners in this Virtual Era will be those who can simplify, standardise and automate their infrastructure to spend more time managing the business rather than the technology.
Growing pressure on companies caused by ever-expanding quantities of data such as e-mail and video files, as well as increased threats to the security of this data, means that efficient data storage and management is more critical than ever to SMBs.
In today's business environment, it's more appropriate to think of storage in terms of performance. In other words, storage doesn't end with simply storing more and more data. Some data will regularly need to be moved or accessed; for example, retrieving old data to generate a report can take hours or days as opposed to seconds for some companies.
The possibility that a company is not able to retrieve its old, sensitive or business critical data is a very real obstacle today and can prove both costly and timely to rectify. Data needs careful management to ensure that it can always be accessed and that a smart solution is in place to guarantee business continuity.
According to Symantec's 2011 SMB Disaster Preparedness Survey, 59% of Malaysian SMBs do not have a disaster recovery plan. The survey revealed that the cost of not being prepared is high, putting an SMB at risk of going out of business.
More than nine out of 10 (93%) small businesses in Europe have experienced an IT outage that has inhibited their ability to continue business. 17% claim this happens at least once a week however the news is not all bad as nearly half (47%) say it rarely or never happens.
It is important to work with a vendor to make sure that not only is data retrieval not a headache for your business, but also to identify which data needs accessed more than other data, as SMBs can actually save money by tiering data based on importance.
Ultimately, companies that prepare for growth by deploying innovative technology will be able to boast greater efficiency, therefore positioning themselves over the competition.
As part of the need to protect and grow any business, it's key to identify any risks with the existing storage infrastructure. This can be done with a vendor that takes a consultative-approach to storage, and will make an SMB in a better position to address those risks and implement the best storage solution for their needs.
Some considerations can include whether there is a need to set up off-site as well as on-site storage, but as there is no "one-size fits all" solution for this approach, it is important to focus on what will best suit particular business needs.
(K.T. Ong is general manager of commercial business at Dell Sales Malaysia)