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Business continuity in SMB: disaster recovery in the small-to-medium business space.

Many small to medium businesses (SMB) operate under the data protection philosophy of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." But something will inevitably happen: a disaster wipes out the backup tapes, or a critical database is permanently corrupted, or months of backups are useless because there was never an actual backup--only an error that repeated every night but no one ever knew until it was too late. All too often, the consequences are disastrous for the business.


It's not that SMB doesn't know they need reliable backups and data protection. The issue is that SMBs are not flush with IT headcount looking for things to do. Unlike the enterprise, where simplification can threaten IT specialists' jobs, mid-market IT people are so severely overworked that they'll look for any good excuse to take tasks off their plate. They may need enterprise-level data protection--reliable backup and archiving, snapshots, replication, and SANs--but products need to be cost-effective and simple to deploy and maintain. Storage vendors into this space cannot overstress the importance of simplification in this space.

What SMB Needs Now

The three main needs for SMB and data protection are to make sure the backups work and are reliably moved offsite, and that these operations are simple and cost-effective. Donald Mead, VP of Marketing for FalconStor said, "The SMBS want the same level of storage management as the enterprise--and they need them."

Typical Challenges

* Little or no IT support staff. Wrote Steven Pofcher, Senior Marketing Manager at Maxell, "Smaller businesses face the same fundamental backup and data protection concerns as large businesses: What is the most cost-effective method to reliably protect and recover business-critical information? For many small businesses, the problem is even more difficult because they do not have an IT staff to design, deploy and manage data storage backup and recovery systems."

* Unreliable backups. It's not uncommon for an SMB to go for months without a successful backup, and they don't realize it until they need to get that data back--and they can't. SMB is busy worrying about their business, not their backups, but the outcome can be disastrous.

* Complicated administration. With a dearth of IT support staff, the last thing SMB needs is a complicated backup routine, or one that requires many manual steps. SMB largely wants to "set and forget," but up until now has lacked products to do that.

* Dearth of value-added storage services. SMB doesn't only need reliable backup. They also need reliable recovery, snapshot technology, availability and a workable method of sending backups off-site. The enterprise has access to any number of supporting products, but they have generally been too complex and/or expensive to make a big dent in the SMB market. According to Peter Carroll, CTO of Acpana Business Systems, that may be changing. "Owners are focused on backup and recovery, but there's a lot more out there that they could really use."

* Run-ins with disaster. A number of storage vendors have reported that natural disasters in 2005 have seemed to cause an uptick in storage purchases, especially backup and recovery software and the need for offsite storage. This is a good thing--if a business is down for just 10 days or more, the likelihood that they'll come back is remote.

Best Practices for SMB

Simplified and reliable data protection is available to SMB today, including continuous data protection (CDP). Key elements include iSCSI SANs and backup appliances, SATA and SAS, simplified storage products, centralized storage, open SANs and improved off-site storage methods including replication.

Networked storage

Network-attached storage (NAS) has been an important part of mid-tier SMB for years now, and the growing acceptance of iSCSI SANs (storage area network) is key to SMB data protection. iSCSI's ubiquitous familiarity has lowered entry barriers to storage in the SMB, particularly in this segment that values iSCSI's familiar topology and simplicity. And networked backup appliances can be even simpler to install and can work well in a variety of situations and for different sizes of SMB.


Cost-effective SATA (serial ATA) and SAS (serial-attached SCSI) put high capacity and high performance disk into the hands of SMB. Both SMB and the enterprise happily use economical SATA for disk-based backups, and SAS adds high performance disk at the right price. And since SAS and SATA are compatible, high-performance SAS drives and low cost/GB SATA drives can share a common backplane and a single enclosure. This yields even more efficiency and cost savings for SMB.

Single products/product suites

In the name of simplicity, the vendors finding success in the SMB space are offering single products or single suites at a price point SMB will pay. John Joseph, vice president of marketing at EqualLogic said about commoditizing storage, servers and switches, "Buying cheap servers, storage and switches, and then trying to put them together, is not cost-effective. When the business wants to expand, they're talking forklifts or at the least challenging and expensive upgrades. And who knows if it will still work?"

Simplified administration

Many SMB IT staff are part-time, untrained, and on information overload. This is not likely to change especially on the smaller side of SMB, so technology that is originally designed for large-enterprise applications and large IT teams must be simplified for SMB reality and budgets. David Luft, Sr. VP Product Development for Small and Medium business at CA said, "There's a market for storage point solutions for SMB, but single suites that are highly effective and easy to set up are better for the SMB market. SMB is aware of their need to protect their data, but they need to simplify administration."

Open SANs

SMB values heterogeneous storage, but they also want to be sure their storage products fully integrate. That is one reason that iSCSI is popular in this space: lacking specialized Fibre Channel IT staff, it is easier to operate iSCSI in heterogeneous environments than it is in Fibre Channel. iSCSI also runs on highly commoditized components such as Ethernet. And with 10Gb Ethernet fast approaching, network storage speed is no longer an issue.

Off-site storage

Off-site storage is accomplished either by remote replication or by removable media. The latter physically isolates data from threats and requires backup to media including CD and DVD optical disc and tape. Business must send their tapes off-site at least once a week, either by hiring a company to do it or by physically transporting them to a separate location. An even easier way of accomplishing regular off-site migration is to remotely replicate important and critical data off-site. Commoditization of servers, switches and storage technology has lowered replication costs, so if an SMB wants to do replication and already has a WAN, the business is able to economically tie those sites together.

SMB: Land of Opportunity?

Bill Chambers, Founder and President/CEO of LeftHand remarked, "As vendors, we tend to think the mid-market is not as savvy from technology perspective but that's not actually the case. They have the same needs and pain points as the enterprise; they just don't have the deep pockets and the staff. The mid-market sees the difference between backup and archiving. They're interested in snapshot technology and data availability. They are also interested in protecting data by replicating it around remote sites. Replication can leverage Internet infrastructure, and when SMB sees that, it leads to fast adoption."

Today's storage market is $50 billion in total, and a healthy portion of that is coming from the SMB market. (AMI-Partners' research reports that SMBs spent $10 billion on IT storage products in 2004, and are projected to spend double that by 2009.) Due to both business pressures and a willingness of distributors to suggest storage service improvements, storage spending is increasing in the SMB. In addition, enterprise storage development benefits from a drive to simplify and unify user interfaces. By providing SMB with simplified and cost-effective backup and recovery, archiving, snapshots and remote replication, storage vendors best serve their customers and their own bottom line.
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Title Annotation:Storage Networking
Author:Chudnow, Christine
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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