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Ohh No! My business has grown, my computers and server are running out of storage space and our computer network is a mess!

Like most small businesses, your technology investments likely started small. You invested in a PC for yourself and a few other desktop computers for staff members. Perhaps you even have a small server. Most likely users keep his or her files on his PC; when someone needs a file they grab it with a USB flash drive or send it via email. Perhaps you have a shared folder setup so users share a folder with each other on your network.

Suddenly your business grew and what happened? Some of your computers are running out of storage or are not performing very good. Files are scattered across computers and you run into not being able to keep data organized. You have different versions of files in different places. Which is the most current, relevant version? In many cases nobody knows.

With any small business there comes a time when slow, neglected, misconfigured desktop or laptop computers simply doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. That’s when it’s time to consolidate, centralize, and share file storage across the network. This is when you need a professional network administrator – business computer expert or consultant to step in and help you.

Why consolidate? Why seek a professional network administrator? There are lots of reasons.

It’s more efficient PC based file storage of business critical data is naturally inflexible , inefficient and dangerous. Some of your PC’s may have huge amounts of storage to spare, but no way share it correctly, while others constantly run out of storage and require repeated internal storage upgrades or the addition of connected external hard drives which are also not redundant of a safe to store critical data. When you centralize and share storage, you get a single storage pool that you can slice, dice, and allocate to users and applications efficiently and easily without having to add internal or external hard drives to PCs with limited unused storage. Upgrades are less frequent and the storage you have is used much more efficiently and if configured correctly will be redundant and much safer then storing your companies data on a PC or external hard drive which will break down and crash sooner or later.

It’s more organized When all your files are stored in one place, they’re easier to find. It’s easier to keep track of which file is the most current. And since you don’t have to have multiple versions of the same files spread across the office network, you save on data storage space and prevent unnecessary headaches.

It’s easier to protect You know your employees should be backing up their files but, really, who does? It’s just a matter of time before files are lost with no way to get them back. Put all your storage in one redundant place and it’s easier to implement a single robust backup strategy that’s efficient and effective.
Ok, so now you know you should consolidate and share storage, but how do you do that?

There are three basic ways:

Direct-Attached Storage (DAS)

Direct attached storage refers to the storage “external hard-drive” attached directly to a PC or server. You can share files stored on one of your PC’s hard disks or buy a server running Microsoft Windows Server or Microsoft Windows Small Business Server and share its internal storage. As discussed earlier, you can also add storage to an internal bay of your server or add external storage via a USB cable. This is not the preferred way and is really cutting corners.
I don’t know about you but I value my data and take protecting it very seriously.

These are viable solutions if you have a high quality backup system in place, but if you haven’t yet made the leap to the world of servers, consider your other options carefully. Why?

Complexity – You have to do some research and investigation to find the right server for your needs. Then you must purchase, install, and configure the hardware and operating system for your network of computer users. If you’re new to server technology this can take a long time with the potential for a high level of frustration.This is the perfect time to call upon a professional network administrator – computer and network expert to do this for you.

Once your server is installed, its loosely integrated collection of hardware, operating system, and software require ongoing tuning and troubleshooting and maintenance. The server operating system and software are likely to require frequent patching and updates for continued security and performance and most importantly business continuity.

Availability – DAS storage can only be accessed through the server or PC to which it is attached. If that server goes down or is turned off for any reason, the storage and data will not be available to the network – computer users.

Upgrades – If you run out of storage you’ll probably have to shut down the server to install a new hard disk. This requires downtime and staff resources. Some servers and external storage solutions let you swap hard disks in and out while the server is up and running, but these tend to be at the high end for medium and large business use.

Performance – The typical server operating system (OS) is designed to run many different applications, provide many different types of services, and carry out many different tasks simultaneously. A full fledged OS such as Microsoft small business server can have an unnecessary impact on performance if all you really want to do is share files.
” A good network administrator – computer and networking expert” will help you choose the best hardware and software for your specific needs and budget. Avoid the high pressure pushy IT sales guy that tries to sell you expensive hardware and software without fully explaining the pros, cons and different recommended options with you.
While high quality comes with a price  make sure you understand whats going on before open your wallet.

Flexibility – You can run into similar inefficiencies with server attached DAS drives just as you did with your PC attached DAS drives. As your business grows and you add more storage capacity to your network, heavily used servers and DAS units will run out of storage frequently, requiring upgrades, and have higher potential to break down or crash if you will.

Despite these concerns, DAS can be an inexpensive viable solution for many networks, particularly those that also want to run server applications like email, CRM, and other database solutions.

Storage Area Network (SAN)

An alternative to using DAS is to separate storage from your servers and put it on its own specialized, high performance storage network called a storage area network (SAN). With a SAN, storage is no longer enslaved to a single server but sits independently on the SAN where it can be shared, sliced, diced, and allocated to servers, users and applications from a single pool.

For years, SANs ran on a complex technology called Fibre Channel that was too expensive for small businesses.
Fibre channel SAN systems are popular in data center, server farm and other mission critical server environments commonly found with fortune 500 companies, banks, web hosting companies and other high end computing environments. However a fairly new SAN technology called iSCSI offers very good performance, uses the same equipment as your Ethernet network, and is relatively simple to use.

Like DAS, however, SAN storage uses a low level, block based storage architecture that requires a server with an operating system to present files to users. Each server needs its own iSCSI host adapter or initiator software to communicate with the SAN. That’s why if you only intend to share files and printers on your network, a full fledged SAN can be an overkill. SANs are most appropriate where higher network performance is desired.
If you intend to host a database or perhaps multiple databases or computer users share and access large files then higher performance is going to benefit you.

Network-Attached Storage (NAS)

Small businesses looking for extra storage to share files and print services should take a close look at network attached storage (NAS). Like a server, a NAS device sits directly on the network. And like a server, a NAS device serves files not bare blocks of storage to users and applications. However, unlike a server, a NAS device does not require installing, configuring, tuning, and updating a server operating system. And unlike a SAN, a NAS doesn’t need a separate server to serve up its blocks of data as files. Instead, a NAS comes preconfigured with just the parts of an operating system necessary to serve files to users and applications.

Most NAS devices serve files using either the Network File System (NFS), which is an open source file system, or the Common Internet File System (CIFS), which is the system used by Windows to serve files to the user. Many can use both. The growing popularity of Apple desktops and laptops has pushed many network storage devices to also support the Apple File Protocol (AFP).

NAS devices have several advantages:

Independence – A NAS can sit anywhere on the network, independent of servers, and serve files to any network connected computer or server. If a server or PC goes down, the NAS is still functional. If power goes down, there’s no need for complex reconfiguration. With its simple architecture and setup, a NAS can be up and running again in minutes providing there is no major damage to the unit or drives.

Ease of Use – NAS devices typically come as preconfigured, almost turnkey solutions. There’s no need to install a host adapter or operating system. You simply plug the NAS into the network and, depending on the ease of use of the user interface, you do some very light configuration using a Web browser. There may be a little more configuration to do on PC’s and servers accessing the device, but in most cases you’re up and running in minutes. Compared to traditional servers, NAS units require little maintenance, few updates, and little troubleshooting. Whatever administration is necessary can usually be done via a simple Web browser interface.

Easy Upgrades – Adding storage to a server usually requires shutting down the server, replacing a drive or adding a new one and then booting up the server again. To get more storage with NAS, you simply plug another NAS device into the network and are up and running with additional shared file storage in minutes. Or some NAS devices allow swapping of hard drives or adding internal or external storage while they are in operation (commonly known as “hot swap”).

Flexibility – Many NAS devices can share their files easily among Windows, APPLE – Mac, UNIX, and Linux based computers. Some are also flexible enough to be used as a NAS, as DAS for a single server, or, as a storage device on a SAN. Many also come with capabilities for sharing printers.

Easy Backup – NAS devices can be a great storage medium for PC based backups. Many of these devices come with backup software that is easy to configure and use, both for backing up user computers to the NAS and backing up the NAS to another storage device, tape, or an external backup service. When all your files are in one place, backup is inherently easier than when they are spread around the office. Some NAS’s also come with easy tools for migrating data to the device and replicating data over the network from storage device to storage device.

In summary, depending on the needs of your small business and your technical expertise, you may be best off with DAS, a SAN, or NAS solution. If simple file and print sharing is your goal and your staff has little networking technical expertise, a NAS is often the best solution. Regardless of which solution you have or are questioning don’t skip out on having a professional network administrator – computer – networking expert help you choose the best solution for YOU!

You are special, your business is special, your data is literally priceless  and preserving and protecting it should be taken seriously.

Posted in Computers, Data Storage, ServersComments (0)