Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) today can choose from a variety of storage platforms and technologies, ranging from NAS to SAN to tape libraries. So, just how do they decide on a storage architecture that best suits their business?
Understanding the different storage technologies and architectures is the first step. Next, SMBs need to match their storage needs to the tools that are available in the market.
In this article, we match these technologies to four key applications that businesses commonly need, namely:
- Data backup
- Serving files to users
- Serving data to applications
- Data storage and archival
Backing up data is a critical role for any storage device. Server-attached storage can do the job, but businesses risk losing all their data if the server is stolen or damaged.
Server-attached storage plus a tape drive provides more effective backup, but companies will need to manage their own tapes as there is no automation available for standalone tape drives.
Network attached storage (NAS) devices can make copies of the data they store, but SMBs should do so to ensure reliability rather than to provide short- or long-term data security.
Storage area networks (SANs) are a better bet for backups as they allow live data to be stored on faster storage devices, and backups to be shunted off onto slower machines that are seldom accessed but are sufficiently speedy so that they permit tolerably fast restoration of data.
SAN and NAS can both be deployed to contain backup data via the use of "mirroring", or other configurations that facilitate data to be replicated from one machine to another, and often on different sites.
Serving files to users
NAS, SAN and server-attached storage all do a competent job of serving files to users, so such requirement must be matched to the scale of file serving.
A server with server-attached storage will cope with a modest set of requirements.
A NAS deployment is more capable and can be configured to ensure it stores the files that users want most often and need to access quickly.
SANs can support more sophisticated capabilities but are generally considered to be best at providing applications with access to data, rather than be deployed simply to handle mundane tasks of working with unstructured data, such as personal productivity files.
Serving data to applications
Server-attached storage is more than capable of serving data to an application on the same server, but will not scale elegantly or efficiently.
A NAS architecture is capable of serving data for applications, but generally does so best when tweaked to support specific applications.
SANs are far better at working with applications because their robustness and dedicated network access ensure rapid data input/output, as well as the speed required to make sure critical applications can perform at their optimum.
Data storage and archival
SANS are making great strides as archival storage, thanks to hierarchical storage management and other techniques that place seldom-used data on slower, cheaper disk drives.
Combined with emerging techniques such as Massive Arrays of Idle Disks (MAID), which shuts down drives when they are not being used to save electricity, SANs can yield cost savings and are a close alternative to tape as a data archival facility.
Today, tape is still the best way to store data that only needs to be accessed occasionally. However, this may change as MAID matures and the cost of disk continues to fall.
Simon Sharwood is a freelance IT writer based in Australia.