The world of IT is changing rapidly and, as a result, SMEs are experiencing unprecedented IT growth, which was traditionally reserved for large organisations. According to a recent report by Can Capital, 58% of small business owners expect growth in 2015.
Subsequently, IT decision makers will be forced to review their IT infrastructure to accommodate these growing needs. The reality is that for SMEs, the value of their company is no longer in bricks and mortar, but in its data, and it’s vital to make every effort to protect this asset.
It can be tricky to ensure that IT infrastructure keeps pace with increasing data requirements and, for SMEs with limited staff and minimal budgets, this can become a Herculean task. It is vital for small businesses to plan for expansion, rather than investing reactively as their data needs outgrow the systems in place.
One of the primary challenges for SMEs expanding rapidly is planned downtime as systems are upgraded and storage capacity increased. While large organisations have the infrastructure in place to support basic operations over a period, for a small business, these upgrades can result in operations completely shutting down, even if they have been carefully plotted and timed to prevent disruption. Twelve hours of downtime is not something to be taken lightly. In fact, especially when unforeseen, it can have tangible negative impacts on the company’s performance.
Data storage without breaking the bank
The key considerations for any SME looking to rejuvenate its data storage infrastructure are flexibility, scalability, reliability and cost. Put simply, IT decision makers within SMEs need a system that maximises the amount of data that can be stored without breaking the bank – as data storage is often the biggest line item in the IT budget. Capacity is important, however, when a company overloads a single storage system with too many databases, user files and other workloads, it will see a gradual deterioration in performance, making it difficult to retrieve data quickly, for example. This can result in costly, unplanned expansion.
Flash storage can, in part, solve this problem, as it allows for high performance and increased utilization of server processor cores, which in turn can reduce the number of costly data base licences needed. Where speed is important, flash storage is a good solution for business-critical workloads, as it prioritises efficiency. However, speed needs to be balanced against cost, and so deciding between an ‘all Flash’ solution, traditional disk, or a hybrid setup very much depends on the workloads and the requirements of what needs to be achieved.
An alternative is a hybrid cloud solution. Companies can store non business-critical data in the public cloud, which can reduce costs and add agility when compared to an on-premises data centre. Cloud solutions are cost-effective, as they can be switched on and off as business requirements change, meaning it is never necessary to pay for more capacity than is required.
However, when choosing a cloud provider, it is very important to establish up-front if the technology they use stores and manages data in an industry standard format, or their own proprietary format, to avoid being locked into a single supplier. Unlike compute services in the cloud, which are transitory – data has long-term value, but also has physical mass and is hard to move, so selecting a provider that uses technology that allows data portability is key.
Another option for the SME at the higher end of the scale, and where data security or compliance is of concern, is to deploy a co-located data centre, which is close to the public cloud provider, but not actually in the cloud. That way, small businesses can benefit from the cost savings of a cloud solution, combined with the security of storing data in a co-located data centre that is ‘next to’ rather than ‘in the cloud’.
The beauty of using a hybrid cloud solution, as opposed to putting everything into the public cloud, is that small businesses can determine which data is sensitive and needs to remain private and which elements are less business-critical and fine to store in the public cloud.
The issue of data storage can seem overwhelming, especially when a business’ growth is rapid and unplanned. The key for IT Directors at SMEs is to pre-empt the issue of replacing outdated infrastructure by doing so in advance. It’s sensible to balance cost savings with performance. Small businesses should accept that data storage will be a prominent line item within the IT budget and plan accordingly. It’s not an area to cut back on, as data is the DNA of any company, which defines a business in terms of its unique assets and value within the market.