Storage Capacity Planning: What's Enough and What's Too Much

We list different storage options and offer insight on how to get just the right amount of storage for your business.
The days are long past when many small businesses could get by with their files stored on desktops or one small server. In an era of PowerPoint presentations, videos and graphics files disk space fills up and maxes out too quickly.

“Digital storage demand is increasing from 30 to over 50 percent annually and is expected to steadily increase for the foreseeable future,” said Fred Moore, principal of Horison Information Strategies. “One of the big disk challenges is that capacity is growing ten times faster than performance.”

So how should companies deal with soaring storage capacity needs when they have little or no IT resources? What kind of storage should be added – bigger disks, more servers, Network Attached Storage (NAS) or some other option? As these come in a wide range of speeds, features and prices, how can this be done without under- or overbuying?

Twenty or Fewer Staff
Some firms don’t need to pay much to improve their storage situation. Relatively cheap and easy-to-use products are available that won’t require hiring an IT guy yet will markedly improve the storage situation.

“Consolidation of data into a single repository makes for better management and most likely lower cost,” said Victor Gamaly, senior product marketing manager at NEC Corporation of America. “Larger storage servers have a higher degree of scalability that allows greater flexibility when more capacity, performance or connectivity is required.” 

Let’s take a look at a few examples, starting with the lower-end machines. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll say they are suitable for companies with twenty or fewer staff. However a company of ten people that uses a lot of graphics files might need a whole lot more storage, and a firm of 50 staff with mild storage needs might get by with one of these smaller and simpler models.

A TeraStation from Buffalo Technology Inc. costs around $650.  This is a rather bare bones box in terms of features, but it provides 1 terabyte (TB) of capacity. Another version holds double that capacity and sells for approximately  $1,000. If an office has one overloaded server and needs to offload a large volume of basic documents and keep them available over the network, this is a good solution.

The price per TB of the TeraStation compares favorably with the $3,500 required for a 2 TB Snap Server 410 by Adaptec. The Snap Server, though, has more bells and whistles such as various flavors of RAID protection, and the ability to work well with multiple operating systems. For people who want a stronger features set without high space demands, Adaptec’s lowest end box is the Snap Server 110.  For $950, you can purchase 500 GB.

Around 50 Staff
The models featured above are probably best for companies that either have no servers at all or currently have everyone sharing one server. By adding a TeraStation or small Snap Server, the company at least gains extra capacity that is very easy to manage.

The next level up is Network Attached Storage (NAS). NAS really comes in handy once you have more than one server. Just as multiple desktops can access one server to retrieve files, with NAS multiple servers access the NAS box that holds the stored data.

“With one server serving data, there is rarely the economics or the pain to move to networked storage,” said Sajai Krishnan, a general manager at Network Appliance. “We see interest in networked storage rising when there are three or four servers, one of which has critical data.”

At that stage, the challenge of reliably managing and backing-up the servers consumes enough time that companies begin to understand the value of NAS – and are willing to pay for it. Features that Krishnan suggests SMB will find appealing include: 

  • Reliability: It's the company's data that you have on the appliance. You have to be comfortable that the storage device is dependable.
  • Scalability: You need room to grow. An appliance that lets you easily add storage on the fly allows you to track storage growth to business growth. 
  •  Flexibility: As the business grows you'll likely need to add applications (e-mail, databases) to this networked storage; Look for a device that can handle application storage or share files.

Krishnan recommends the StoreVault S500 because, in addition to meeting the above criteria, it provides offers protection against two disks in the system going down and alerts for disks that are starting to show instability. It holds up to 12 SATA hard drives (at either 250 GB or 500 GB capacities). A 2 TB StoreVault S500 equipped with eight 250GB hard drives, for example, costs less than $7,000. Fully loaded (6TB), a StoreVault costs around $14,000.

Another option is the ISS storage server by Cutting Edge Network Storage Solutions. It has 2.2 TB of RAID capacity that can be split up into different volumes for different departments or purposes.  Pricing begins at $7,000.00. A Cutting Edge MSS NAS box with 1.5 TB begins at $10,000.  

EMC Corp also now offers SMB storage. Its CLARiiON AX150 RAID array has built in hardware redundancy, as well as data integrity features and multiple TB of capacity depending on the configuration. The AX150 begins under $6,000.

100 or More
As storage needs grow, so do the number of possible systems. Those listed below are but a tiny fraction of the choices available:

The Adaptec Snap Server 650 can scale up to 64.2 TB. It is built on dual-core 64-bit AMD Opteron processors, along with 2GB of memory to make it really fast.  Prices start around $16,000.

“The business may require greater speed when the number of transactions increase, response time to their customers’ decrease, when back up windows are impacting online transactions, and when losing data will have a catastrophic impact to the business,” said NEC’s Gamaly. 

NEC sells several storage arrays. The D1-10 and S-1500 would be good for companies with less than 100 people, whereas the D3-10 or the S2500 would be more suitable for 100 or more employees. Pricing starts at: $16,430 for the S-Series and at $15,000 for the D-Series.

EMC’s CLARiiON CX3-10 UltraScale system is designed for the needs of larger SMBs. The list price for a system with five 146 GB hard drives is $27,000. This box can scale up to can scale up to 30 TB. 

How should a small business go about the job of sizing their systems appropriately? Michael Ehman, CEO of Cutting Edge says there are three areas to consider:

1. How many other activities does the file server handle?  It's important to provide employees with a positive experience when they access the network file share. If it takes too long to open a share, find a file or transfer data, it will adversely affect worker productivity. Given the cost of fielding employees, they must be kept at optimal efficiency.

2. How many individuals are in the workgroup and what type of network traffic do they generate?  If it's just general business activity, a lightly used file server could service up to 10 people, he said. If the organization uses video files or other large-size files, than this number will decrease.

3. Another issue is the number of files hosted on a network share. As this number approaches several hundred thousand files, an optimized file server such as a NAS box or storage server provides better performance for employees than does a generic fileserver.

Ehman estimates the amount of storage a company will need by adding up the data volume on a organization's desktops and servers. Then he assumes five daily backups (5X), five weekly backups (5X) and 12 monthly backups (12X). As a rule, that equates to about 20X overall in terms of the total capacity required for backups. The he factors in growth. It's best to expect annual doubling to be on the safe side. If a company has 200 GB of total data, therefore, an 8 TB net system would provide space for backup capacity and future growth.

Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.

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