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Seven steps for outsourcing data storage for SMBs

Although hard drives keep getting higher in capacity and lower in price, storage is still increasingly challenging for SMBs. This tip discusses seven tips for outsourcing data storage to help SMBs address their capacity and management issues.

Although hard drives keep getting higher in capacity and lower in price (terabyte-sized SATA drives now cost less than $200) storage is getting more challenging, especially for small-midsized businesses (SMBs) that do not have dedicated storage expertise.

One solution for SMBs is to outsource some -- or even all -- of their storage capacity and management. This may be done through the hardware provider or a hardware provider's services group, a VAR, a managed service provider, a Web service or an IT consultant.

Here are the steps involved in outsourcing storage:

1. Identify your current and anticipated storage requirements, including:

  • Primary storage -- how much data do you currently have, and what's your current total capacity? How fast is your data growing?
  • What's your storage environment (hardware and data backup software)?

2. Identify and prioritize your data availability requirements; latency for primary data access (e.g., for production applications) and delay for secondary data (e.g., file recovery requests, responses to discovery requests). Also, decide what storage you want onsite or are willing to have offsite (keeping latency in mind).

3. Determine what data you want protected and how much protection you want (continuous data protection, nightly or weekly backups, etc.).

Determine your recovery point objectives (RPOs) -- how much data you need to recover and have available, and how fast -- in terms of its impact on your ability to do business vs. the cost for data protection and recovery.

4. Decide which data you want to be responsible for, which you want to have handled by a third party and which data you want to outsource.

5. Begin identifying potential solution providers. "Look at pricing, scaling, SLAs [service-level agreements] and security," says Bob Laliberte, analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group. "Determine whether there's [encryption] key recovery as well -- an escrow or third-party service -- so you can retrieve it in case the person in control of the key loses it, leaves the company, etc. And ask what happens to your data if the storage company has a problem."

For backup providers, look for ones with facilities more than 50 miles from your sites (so that a local "event" won't also impact your backup). Try to pick one you're prepared to stay with, since the initial upload can be time-consuming and expensive.

6. Try out your final choices. See how hard it is to set up and whether it is saving data and files as expected. Try to recover single files and larger amounts of data.

7. Pick a provider and get started. Install and configure all appropriate hardware and software. Do your initial backups, either online or by copying and shipping media and hard drives.

Test the restore process:

  • Make sure you understand how to do it
  • Have whatever you need in the way of accounts, passwords and software
  • Verify that the backup and restore works as expected

Periodically check backup services to make sure that they're working, e.g., that employee machines are being backed up (they're not shutting the backup client down), and that the right data is being backed up (and unnecessary files or file types aren't).

Daniel P. Dern is an independent technology writer. He can be reached at dern@pair.com.

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