In the olden days, businesses stored their documents and records in file cabinets, hanging folders, or banker’s boxes. In some businesses, entire rooms might be devoted to storing the company’s records. Today, documents are saved as data files, and file storage is a completely different ball game. Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) now use at least some digital file storage. To make the most of this option, you need to know your SMB’s data storage options.
The Benefits of Using Digital Files
The paper files of bygone days were cumbersome and not widely accessible. If only one copy of a document or record existed, then only one person could access it at a time. And although the materials required for its production were inexpensive—just paper and ink—the files were often stored in filing cabinets or banker’s boxes. If your business was required to retain records for years, finding enough storage space could be a problem.
Today, documents are created and maintained digitally, vastly decreasing the amount of physical space required to store them. Just as a 32GB iPhone can hold over 500 LPs, digital storage systems can hold thousands of documents in a fraction of the space required by file cabinets and boxes. Data in digital form is also searchable, easier and faster to access, and easier to share with co-workers.
Using digital files increases efficiency, but it also changes the way people work and where they store their work. Enter the age of data storage.
Common Types of Data Storage for SMBs
Anyone who has a computer is using some kind of digital file storage. The hard drive on your laptop or desktop computer is, among other things, also a file storage device. But while most SMBs establish computer networks—computers linked together in some fashion to allow colleagues to work cooperatively—they do not configure their office computers to allow workers to access each other’s hard drives. Instead, SMBs usually set up a central location for storing and accessing their data.
Most SMBs use one or more of four main types of data storage options. In each option, employees access the stored through the SMB’s office network or by accessing the Internet. Some forms of data storage are maintained in the SMB’s office, while others are off-site. Here are the four main types of SMB data storage:
- Cloud storage;
- Network attached storage;
- Storage area network; and
- Direct attached storage.
Each option is within the IT budget of most SMBs. Before choosing an option, consider the benefits and drawbacks each option offers.
SMBs are increasingly choosing “the cloud” as their data storage solution. Storage in “the cloud” means simply that the files are stored off-site, meaning not in the SMB’s offices. Technically, “the cloud” is a metaphor indicating a group of networked computers somewhere off-site. In other words, the SMB’s data files are stored on a network of computers off-site that are engaged for that purpose.
Cloud storage has several benefits. It is accessible from anywhere, allowing employees to access files while working outside the office. Google Drive and Dropbox are both examples of cloud storage services. Additionally, some cloud storage is free. Businesses may use such services, but the amount of data most SMBs need to store may quickly exceed the free data storage limit, and paid cloud storage plans are often pricey over time. Clients must pay the storage fees monthly or annually for as long as they need to maintain those files in that storage option.
Another potential drawback of cloud storage is the means of access: the Internet. Access to data in cloud storage is only as fast as your Internet connection allows. Also, upload and download speeds may vary depending on the size of the files. And if you lose access to the Internet for any reason, you lose access to your data altogether until your Internet connection is restored.
Network Attached Storage
Network attached storage, commonly referred to as NAS, is a type of server dedicated to file storage and attached to an SMB’s office network. An NAS system holds one or more hard drives. In essence, an NAS system works like an external hard drive, allowing users on the same network as the NAS system to store their files there.
Like cloud storage, the files on NAS systems allow access by multiple users simultaneously. Most NAS devices must be hard-wired into the network, but some can be connected wirelessly if you have a wireless office network.
The initial purchase cost of an NAS system usually exceeds the monthly fee of some cloud storage plans. The NAS device and the hard drives placed into it are separate pieces of equipment. And as with most pieces of office computer hardware, a network attached storage system requires regular maintenance. But over time, using an NAS system is often cheaper than cloud storage.
Storage Area Network
A storage area network or SAN is a network of high-speed network storage devices connected to an SMB’s network. Multiple pieces of equipment are used to create the data storage network, to connect that network to the business’s office network, and to allow users to access the data stored on the SAN. A SAN system may be able to provide more storage capacity and greater speed than an NAS system, but it also comes with a heftier price tag and greater maintenance requirements.
Direct Attached Storage
Direct attached storage, or DAS, is exactly what it sounds like—a storage device directly attached to the user’s computer. The hard drive built into each desktop or laptop computer is an example of DAS. Other examples include external hard drives, CD and DVD drives, and flash drives. These types of data storage require little or no maintenance, are easy to use, and are usually cheaper than the other options; however, they are also more limited in capacity. And because they must be physically attached to the computer accessing them, only one user can access the drive at a time.
How to Choose from Your SMB’s Data Storage Options
With a variety of data storage options to choose from, you may wonder how to narrow down the list. Choosing the best data storage option for your SMB requires consideration of several factors:
- Cost – Consider your IT budget when choosing which data storage option best suits your SMB. Cloud storage may start out free, but it can quickly become pricey, and the fees last as long as you require the cloud storage services. The other types of storage require equipment purchases, and NAS and SAN systems require ongoing maintenance, but they do no require payment of monthly or annual ongoing fees.
- Security – Each data storage option has a different level of security. Cloud storage may or may not come with assurances of data security. Read the terms and conditions closely because some cloud storage provider contracts allow the vendor access to the stored data. Attached and on-site data storage options aren’t in the cloud, but they are only as safe as you keep your network, computer, or external storage device.
- Accessibility and speed – Cloud storage, NAS systems, and SAN devices allow simultaneous access by multiple users. Cloud storage is accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection, but only via the Internet and only as fast as your Internet connection allows. Consider how many users need to access data at a time and how quickly they need access.
- Ease of use – Getting up and running with cloud storage is often as easy as opening an account, while NAS and SAN systems require professional IT assistance to set up and regularly maintain the systems. DAS options are often very user friendly, requiring little or no expertise to use them.
- Reliability – Finally, consider how reliable each data storage option is. For each option, consider whether it includes another layer of data backup and whether the system is historically reliable. A data storage system serves its purpose only if it gives you access to your files when you need them.
To choose the right storage option for your SMB, consult an IT professional with deep experience in matching customer needs with affordable options. The experts at ComTech Consulting, LLC, can help you evaluate your data storage needs, choose the right system, and install a data storage system to keep your business records accessible and secure. To schedule a consultation, call (304) 720-8491, or email us at Sales@ComTechSBS.com. Let ComTech help you protect your business’s records so you can concentrate on doing what you do best.