Most SMBs don’t back up their data, let alone consider off-site backup and archival. But storing data in an off-site location should be part of an overall storage strategy – one that protects against fire, theft or physical damage to your computers.

A few years ago we started to see the emergence of storage service providers, which offered storage in an outsourced model, but they didn’t gain a lot of traction. People weren’t exactly flocking to have their primary storage handled by a service provider, says John Sloan, senior research analyst with the London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group.

Consolidating storage in the data centre with a storage area network (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS) device was a much better economic proposition. But that’s changing. And where there’s been more interest of late is in the area of online backup and archiving services, such as EVault or LiveVault.

The price of hardware, such as the disks in a storage array, continues to drop, but the total cost of storage goes beyond buying disks and a big component of that is the backup and archiving architecture. “It’s great to invest in a SAN or a NAS and consolidate your storage, but you still have to back it up and archive it,” says Sloan.

And a lot of organizations are seeing their total storage capacity grow rapidly, on average about 40 per cent every year, according to Info-Tech. In some cases, the tried and true methods, such as backing up data on tape and shipping it offsite, aren’t going to be able to keep up with that growth. As a result, a variety of in-house and outsourced options have sprung up to meet the demand.

Some SMBs are turning to an online provider to handle their backup and archival, while others are looking at in-house solutions such as virtual tape libraries or replicating a SAN from one location to another.

So what’s right for you? If you’re a smaller company without a remote backup site, then you may want to consider storage as a service. Some online providers, for example, will install a backup server in your data centre, do the primary backup and spin that off to an offsite facility.

For DigitalFire Computing is one such provider, offering 30GB of storage for $30 (and an additional dollar for each additional gigabyte). “It’s the cheapest deal in the industry,” says Lesley Babel, president of the Toronto-based company, adding that the company keeps costs down by running its own service rather than re-branding another vendor’s.

The first backup can take up to a couple of days, depending on the amount of data. After that, only the data that’s changed is backed up. This is done on a nightly basis, and backed up again during the day to a second off-site location. The company also offers continuous backup, which means it can back up data in real time, though this option takes up more bandwidth. Users can retrieve previous file versions, which saves them from backing up a corrupted file and overwriting the data.

Compression technology is used to take up the least amount of bandwidth. That’s important for anyone with a slower connection, says Babel, such as a small business run out of the home. Bell, for example, measures bandwidth, so you don’t want to exceed those bandwidth levels.

And don’t forget security. When considering online providers, check the levels of encryption offered. DigitalFire, for example, uses at a minimum 64-bit encryption, but recommends 256-bit encryption, which is what the banks use. However, if you forget your password, that data is as good as gone.

For Fusepoint Managed Services, storage is considered part of an overall IT solution, where the equipment and applications would reside in its data centre. It has multiple customers on its SAN, for example, and does all the data backup for those customers.

Most SMBs have not replicated the type of environment that a managed service provider has invested in, says George Kerns, the company’s president and CEO. Even if they have an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system and generator, they may not have the security tools in place to protect their data from the outside world.

“I would not diss a storage vendor, because that’s a good first step,” he says, “but it wouldn’t be sufficient.” However you choose to manage your storage, make sure you’re backing it up and storing it off-site, and perform regular tests to make sure it’s running at peak performance. If using an online provider, make sure you can recover your data should an incident occur at their site.

With any backup and archiving project, it’s important that organizations have a thorough look at what they’re backing up, says Sloan. Different data has different value, so they should be looking at tiered storage. Identify the value of your data, differentiate it, and have a clear sense of your recovery time objectives, and this could give you a better sense of whether storage as a service is the right option for your business.

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