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.
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.
Dramatically Improved Backup, Recovery
In some cases, the new storage capabilities are enabling more than just easier and less costly storage and backup chores. In the case of EOB One, a financial analysis service provider to the health care industry in Palo Alto, Calif., a new network storage system is allowing the small startup to provision storage at several sites around the country and retain customer data indefinitely. Previously, EOB One was using a Dell/EMC RAID array holding between 2.5TB and 3TB. “We could have added a bunch of Dell/EMC stuff, which would have been very expensive,” said Sharad Patel, president of EOB One.
Another option would have been to call on a storage service provider, such as IBM and its on-demand service. But Patel said the cost of Bell Microproducts Hammer Z-Box SOIP (storage over IP) appliance was more attractive. “Youre better off buying a box now, compared with using IBM or other services,” said Patel.
Patel chose to deploy several Hammer Z-Box SOIP appliances. With only six employees, EOB One has little room on its payroll for a storage specialist, one reason Patel was attracted to the Hammer Z-Box, which he found very easy to use. Over the summer, Patel deployed the first Hammer Z-Box, which he was able to do in about 15 minutes without the aid of a network administrator. “Managing the drives and storage is very straightforward,” said Patel.
Now Patel uses the Dell/EMC storage servers to back up some of the data in the primary Bell Microproducts system, which holds about 8TB. The rest is backed up on a second Hammer Z-Box. “Were saving about $30,000 in capital expense. Over time, we will save more money because the cost of operation is less,” said Patel. “We retain the data as long as you remain a customer.”
But among all users surveyed by eWEEK, the power to dramatically improve backup and recovery loomed as perhaps the single-biggest attraction of the new network storage systems. That was the case for the Contra Costa Water District, in Concord, Calif., the primary drinking water provider for about a half-million people in Contra Costa County.
Jim Morton, IS manager for the water district, was seeking a resilient backup implementation. Faced with high costs of DAS and scared off by the high cost of an FC SAN, Morton first purchased an iSCSI product made by StoneFly but turned to an iSCSI product from EqualLogic in October 2005.
Now, he has set up one storage network in the organizations primary facility and another elsewhere on the companys campus for backup. “We have a campus that has seven buildings on it. We have an emergency operations component where another building at the opposite end of the campus has rooms and electricity to run our data center. That building has emergency generators and was built to survive an earthquake,” said Morton.
With the need to store customer records, financial records, operations databases, a mapping system and a pipe distribution system, Morton identified the strategic systems that were necessary to recover rapidly.
“We wanted to centralize storage, and iSCSI afforded us a way to remove some costs and replicate the exact same configuration at the backup site. It would take us less than 10 minutes to bring a duplicate of our Microsoft Exchange server online,” said Morton. The shortened recovery time works out to a savings of about $50,000 per incident, while the ability to replicate data saves about $8,000 per year in tape purchases, he said.
“I was skeptical of iSCSI, but its very reliable. It gets you into managed storage at a pretty good price point,” said Morton.
While few smaller enterprises can afford to run a backup operation separated by hundreds of miles from their main IT operations, the ability to run backup equipment off-site is opening up new horizons for some. Dwight Bailey, director of museum technology at the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, is using the recently announced EMC Clariion AX150 and implementing backup on another AX150 at another building on the other side of the universitys campus.
“We wanted enterprise-level features without spending enterprise money. … If the source goes down, the failover automatically sends data to the target. It should be in seconds,” said Bailey, who is planning eventually to replicate data at a remote site in Atlanta.
Big storage for little guys
Some storage products aimed at SMBs that have been introduced in recent months.
Adaptec— Snap Server 520
Bell Microproducts— Hammer Z-Box
Brocade— iSCSI Gateway
Compellent— Storage Center 3.5 EMC/Dell— Clariion AX150
EqualLogic— PeerStorage PS200E
Hewlett-Packard— StorageWorks All-in-One
IBM System Storage— N7000
Network Appliance— StoreVault S500
Overland Storage— Arcvault
Pillar Data Systems— Axiom One
Senior Writer Chris Preimesberger contributed to this report.
Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on enterprise and small business storage hardware and software.