The small and medium-sized business (SMB) market is not a new phenomenon that popped up overnight, as some in the storage market seem to think. SMBs don't have the same issues and requirements as larger enterprise organizations, nor are they focused solely on low-cost, commodity-type technology.
A key difference between SMBs and large enterprises is scale and size. Scale in terms of size and complexity of an SMB environment; vulnerability and applicable risks; IT resources (servers, networks, storage, etc.); and scope of business continuance and protection. For example, the loss of a key server in a large enterprise environment may have a devastating impact on that organization's operations, however the loss of a sole server in an SMB could shut the entire business down.
Scalability is key
There is also the myth that SMB storage is inexpensive, low-cost, nonredundant and lacking in features associated with traditional enterprise-class storage solutions. The reality is that SMB storage solutions scale in terms of performance, capacity and redundancy, with features that meet the diverse needs of SMBs.
The prices of these storage features scale, depending on various vendor capabilities, ease of use and type of features. Some SMB storage features include snapshot point-in-time copies; local and remote mirroring; multiple RAID levels; flexible interfaces including Fibre Channel, iSCSI and network-attached storage (some all in the same system); automation and virtualization (including virtual tape libraries). The SMB focus from a storage perspective also includes management software and tools, as well as data protection and archiving systems to meet regulatory compliance needs.
Although storage is complex compared with other technologies with an SMB focus, great strides have been made in ease of use beyond installation and setting GUI wizards. Likewise, SMB IT professionals are becoming savvier with storage and data protection, and can leverage new features and functions available to them.
Many vendors have begun to focus on delivering easy-to-deploy, manage-and-use storage for SMBs. Microsoft has rallied along with many of its partners in the storage ecosystem around the Simple SAN Initiative, as an example. New divisions or business units are appearing such as EMC Insignia and Network Appliance Inc.'s StoreVault.
Storage management, including backup, archiving, security and disaster recovery is a challenge for some SMBs given the complexity of the products available. Not only can some technologies be more difficult to install and use than others, but SMB IT professionals also often have other areas of focus beyond storage, including servers, networks, printers and more.
The focus on the SMB storage market is similar to that of the shift from mainframe and proprietary midrange systems to open systems Unix, Windows and Linux support in the 1990s. The end result should be that storage (hardware, software, networks and services) will be easy to acquire, install, manage and upgrade in a cost-effective manner for SMB customers.
With the proliferation of easier to acquire, install and manage storage solutions, SMBs should start to see storage challenges being addressed -- similar to how networks and PC servers and software were refocused to adapt to the needs of SMBs.
Greg Schulz is founder and senior analyst of The StorageIO Group (www.storageio.com) in Stillwater, Minn., and author of the book Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier).