Padlocking your computers Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
The days of offices full of filing cabinets taking up space are quickly being replaced by today’s paperless offices.

While this may save companies money on rent, it creates new expenses and plenty of storage challenges.

The most common challenge that business owners face is the explosive growth of storage needs. E-mail and electronic documents are replacing traditional paper documents. This requires companies to store, backup and archive “e-docs.”

It also requires companies to protect the information. When electronic documents travel outside your building on laptops or USB keys, they must be encrypted for protection, says Martin Sizemore, chief technology officer for Premier Technologies.

Smart Business spoke with Sizemore about changes in data storage and how companies can store data concisely and reduce storage costs.

How has data storage changed?

There have been a few major changes in virtualization, security, improvements in backup/recovery and dramatic drops in cost.

Virtualization of storage simplifies applications that rapidly use storage like e-mail, document archiving or media applications. It solves the dilemma of small chunks of wasted storage that are hard to reuse due to outdated storage management software.

Security is a top issue. Storage vendors are beefing up protection mechanisms and including security software with new storage systems. The big improvement in backup and recovery software is encrypting backup tapes prior to off-site storage.

Costs for storage are falling as new software applications are demanding growth. This shift in storage to commodity prices is good news for small to medium businesses that want to scan, organize and store all business documents in electronic format.

How can companies reduce the cost of data storage and reduce complexity?

Companies can reduce the cost of data storage by developing a strategy designed to address its overall IT architecture, with a special focus on identifying key corporate information, the value of that information to the business, the cost of protecting and restoring that information and, finally, retention policies for that information. Ironically, many companies retain years of customer orders but allow the immediate destruction of e-mail messages that may be more important for legal defense or meeting regulatory requirements.

Backup systems and recovery processes are key to reducing data storage complexity. To make these things successful, companies must test them frequently. An excellent backup and recovery process includes multiple copies of the backup tapes.

How can companies consolidate stored data?

There is physical consolidation or logical consolidation. In physical consolidation, multiple disk drives are combined into a storage area network, or SAN. This approach simplifies backup and recovery and solves the age-old problem of reallocating files when they become too large for one disk drive. The SAN software simplifies management of the storage volumes.

Logical consolidation is a good choice for companies that already own storage systems that are from multiple hardware vendors or its servers have storage that is underutilized. Logical consolidation creates a ‘virtual’ storage area network using either storage management software or a special storage management device. Logical consolidation helps companies avoid the rip-and-replace approach and allows an easier transition to physical storage consolidation in the future.

Why is it important for companies to keep up with changes?

Customers are buying network storage across multiple tiers in order to cost-effectively manage huge data volumes and satisfy long-term data retention and regulatory compliance requirements. Rapidly changing laws require that companies pay attention and make appropriate changes to protect consumer data. These laws require the disclosure of data loss, new procedures for archiving e-mails, abiding by SOX or HIPAA guidelines, and business continuity planning.

Storage was once viewed as merely a part of the computer; today it is a valuable asset of the business that often contains intellectual property worth guarding.

What regulations govern the different types of data storage?

Consumer privacy protection laws are causing Congress to change data storage laws rapidly. In public companies, owners should seek assistance on Sarbanes-Oxley compliance for data storage and auditing. In health care, special regulations on data storage, movement and auditing protect the privacy of patients. In small to medium businesses, owners should seek assistance from their certified accounting professionals.

Reliability is key when dealing with large amounts of data storage because restoration times can turn into days, not hours. Clearly understanding the cost of unplanned downtime can offset the desire to add storage without the adequate ability to restore it in the event of a loss.

MARTIN SIZEMORE is the chief technology officer for Premier Technologies. Reach him at msizemore@premweb.com.