Data storage solutions for small business

By Anthony Caruana | April 5, 2013

The amount of data that businesses need to protect is growing exponentially. So what's the best way to keep data safe and easily accessible?

When you're looking at data storage for your business, there are three main things to consider: capacity, reliability and accessibility. As each of these increases, the cost of your preferred solution will also increase.

Capacity is measured in either gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB). 1TB is equivalent to 1000GB. To put that into context, 1GB is enough to hold either 250 songs or photos, or hundreds of simple documents. That might sound like a lot, but once you add images and complex formatting like tables and colour to your documents, the capacity can be used up quickly.

Reliability is harder to measure. Most storage solutions use either flash memory or hard drives. Generally, flash memory offers longer life as there are no moving parts that can wear out. Also, if you drop a flash storage device like a memory stick or solid-state drive (SSD), it's less likely than a hard drive to lose your data as a result of damage.

Hard drives have moving parts and work similarly to an old-style record player. They have platters that spin and a head that moves across the platters and reads the data. It's possible for hard drives to fail, often after many tens of thousands of hours of use, because of fatigue in the moving parts.

Accessibility is about how easy it is to share the data that's on your storage device. Some storage devices are designed for individual users whereas others are made for sharing data between multiple users. Typically, shareable devices can connect directly to your office network.

Once you've determined your need for capacity, reliability and accessibility, you can choose from a variety of different storage options. Let's explore five of them.

Cloud storage is the latest craze and the go-to option for many small businesses. Rather than having the storage either built in or directly connected to your computer, data stored in the 'cloud' is access over the internet.

Flash drives or USB keys are small storage devices that connect directly to your computer. They use flash memory and are generally very reliable. Capacities start at about 2GB and go as far as 512GB although the best value, defined by cost per GB, is around 8GB.

These devices are usually very robust - there's little danger of one failing if it's dropped. Check that the connector feels solid and that the size of the drive doesn't block adjacent ports on your computer - some larger capacity drives are wider or thicker than low capacity drives and can make it difficult to access other ports on your computer.

Desktop hard drives connect to your computer's USB, Firewire or Thunderbolt port but need an external power supply because they use the same hard drives as desktop computers. Capacities go up to 3TB although larger capacities can be achieved by combining two or more drives in the one device.

Portable hard drives offer greater capacity than flash drives and USB keys but are smaller than desktop hard drives. Portable drives are different to desktop hard drives in that they can be powered directly from a USB port and don't need an external power pack or separate electricity supply. These drives use the same technology as notebook computers.

Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices typically combine two or more hard drives in one unit. Rather than connecting directly to a computer, they connect to your network so that multiple users can easily share the capacity.

One of the key benefits of a NAS device is that the drives can be configured to write data to multiple drives at the same time. This means that if one drive fails, you won't lose any data. Most NAS devices even allow you to swap out a defective drive - this is very easy to do - without powering the device off, which means that your business isn't interrupted.

With a NAS device, capacities are almost infinite and dependent on budget. It's possible to buy a unit that can hold many drives. You can start with just a couple of drives and then add capacity as needed.

Data storage is an important business consideration. Start looking at your storage needs and planning ahead so that you can be ready for the future.

*This article contains general information and commentary only, and is not legal or financial advice, and you agree not to rely upon this article in any way.


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