Presto, Storage!

Streamlined tools give midmarket companies new powers to set up and run network storage systems.

Hurricanes dont pick and choose between large and small companies to hit.

But, until now, only big companies have had the resources to come up with sophisticated backup schemes. No more. A wave of bigger, cheaper, faster and, above all, easier-to-use network storage products has hit the beach in recent months, leaving the little guys with far more choices for storing, retrieving and backing up data than ever before.

The timing couldnt have been better for David Lay, director of information technologies for the Salem Law Group, in Tampa, Fla. The series of disastrous hurricanes that have hit Florida in the past several years have raised the need for an airtight backup strategy to top priority for Salem Law. And in what might be luck, its needs coincided with the summer 2006 beta test cycle for Hewlett-Packards StorageWorks All-in-One appliance. Lay gave it a try.

"I cant stress how easy it really was. I have set up SANs [storage area networks], and NAS [network-attached storage] systems with iSCSI that almost take an engineering degree," said Lay, who set up a test implementation in 20 minutes.

"At the time, I thought, It cannot be this easy. I must not have done something right, but it was all working fine," said Lay, who simply followed the eight steps necessary in setting up iSCSI drives, configuring storage and moving data stores to the new appliance.

Lay then set his administrative assistant to the same task, which she was able to complete in the same time. "It automatically does all the sizing for the data and the drive. You dont have to have any kind of formal training to do this at all," said Lay.

The result: Even though this years hurricane season was mild, Lay is ready for whatever nature might dish out because hes able to back up the law firms data at a former military facility that is now his local countys headquarters for backup and data recovery.

But the weather is not all thats on the minds of small and midsize business customers when it comes to data storage. They are facing ballooning volumes of data thanks to new data retention requirements in industries such as health care and financial services. That means theyve got to keep more data around longer, know where its stored and be able to access it quickly.

"Theyre seeing the same [data] growth the enterprises are seeing, 50 percent to 100 percent per year," said Dianne McAdam, an analyst at The Clipper Group, in Wellesley, Mass. "If Im a retail outfit, I have to keep info for a longer period of time. HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] says you have to keep records for the life of the patient. Even businesses that are not regulated, their attorneys are saying they shouldnt throw out e-mail. You need to produce information, or you look like you are trying to hide something," McAdam said.

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Previously, network storage equipment such as Fibre Channel SAN products were out of the question for smaller businesses due to their high cost and technical complexity. Even more affordable iSCSI products often were too complex and time-consuming to configure. Now, point-and-click configuration tools are enabling small businesses to take charge of their own storage and backup needs.

"It lets the little guys compete with the big guys. They dont have to pay enterprise prices for enterprise-quality information storage and management," said Brian Babineau, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, in Milford, Mass. "SMBs can gain control of their information and make it available to more people than before. It makes data more accessible and more leverageable."

Easier-to-use iSCSI SAN technology is arriving at a time when many smaller businesses are fed up with the unwieldiness and cost of DAS (direct-attached storage) subsystems.

For example, the South Country Central School District, in East Patchogue, N.Y., had been using DAS on some 30 Windows servers. "The servers were maxed out with hard drives. We wanted to do a consolidated SAN, but the price was too high for a Fibre Channel SAN," said Kevin Urso, president of Connected Technology, a solution provider in Great River, N.Y., that handles the school districts IT needs.

When the school district mandated the practice of keeping permanent files on all students from the time they entered kindergarten until the time they graduated from high school, storage took on new importance because IT staff needed to know on which storage servers the file for each student was stored, according to Urso. Facing the costly and difficult-to-manage prospect of upgrading the servers with more DAS, Urso chose instead Network Appliances StoreVault S500 product, which includes iSCSI, SAN and NAS technologies in a single box.

Urso implemented 1.5TB of iSCSI storage connected to Gigabit Ethernet switches. "That kept the cost down and consolidated storage for a reasonable price," said Urso, who also is implementing a redundant StoreVault box in another building to which data can be replicated twice per day using the products snapshot feature. That will enable quick restoration of data in the event of an outage. At present, Urso must manually restore data from backup tapes that are created weekly. Urso said the districts total outlay for the StoreVault appliances is just under $14,000, compared with a cost of nearly $40,000 for the previous storage servers.

Next Page: Dramatically improved backup and recovery.