Drowning in data? Expert solutions to stay afloat

Man under umbrella as papers fall around him

As a small business owner, you may often feel yourself drowning under numerous tasks that need your urgent attention. In addition to this, SMBs now have to deal with explosive data growth and the issues that come along with it. Here’s some expert advice for how to manage large volumes of important data.

Where is this data explosion coming from?  Like large enterprises, SMBs are increasingly working with digitised corporate documents, send and receive hundreds of emails daily, use several web-based applications and many are vivid users of social and other new media promoting their businesses. In some specific business areas, such as healthcare, law and finance, SMBs are required to record and store information for long periods of time as a matter of compliance. All these applications create large volumes of data that need to be stored and managed more effectively. Often, though the problem is that SMBs have neither the technical expertise nor the resources to manage the ballooning data.

SMB owners admit to storing data on their laptop and desktop PCs, on USB drives, in their emails and so on. They also agree that IT purchases are often bought in a reactive manner, just to keep the business running rather than investing into future-proof solutions for the long term.

What, if any is the problem with this approach?

At the heart of your IT investment are the hardworking applications such as Microsoft Exchange for instance. Used by large and small businesses alike, it’s a dependable application that gets things done. As the business expands, there are more users of this application who create even more data. In fact, it’s not uncommon to have 10 copies of the same megabyte file floating around as multiple people work with it.

With such applications driving high levels of demand, the application servers get filled up quickly resulting in breakdowns or server sprawls. SMB owners often adopt a quick-fix approach to solve these problems such as buying a new server and migrating the application from the old server or by purchasing additional drives. In the long run though, the sums don’t add up.

For one, server-based storage systems do not offer your business the flexibility you need, especially as some systems need frequent maintenance work or upgrades while others remain underutilised, without any way to share the unused capacity with other applications. With all the numerous tasks you have on your plate, worrying about upgrades, system utilisation rates or when to schedule the next maintenance work are the last thing you want to be concerned about.

The other problem with storing data in multiple locations is that this leaves your data vulnerable to cyber-attack. Data stored on laptops and PCs is often poorly managed and secured by users and rarely backed up simply due to lack of IT resources and competing priorities. Given that this data is sensitive and your intellectual property, ensuring you are able to access it even in the event of a disaster is very important.

Finally, scattered data is hard to manage. Without truly anticipating rising storage needs, SMBs resort to emergency upgrades which makes it very hard to take full advantage of the IT infrastructure, including useful functions such as remote access. It’s no good having all this valuable IP floating around and without being able to leverage it to enhance your competitive advantage in today’s rapidly moving market place.

A smart solution for SMBs is to consolidate their data. With the proliferation of mobile devices, increased use of new media and the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN), small businesses will be snowed under an information avalanche unless they address their IT needs quickly. And this doesn’t have to cost the world! There are solutions that can easily be justified and accommodate cashflow available for capital investment. Look at cloud-based services for some of your lesser important data, so you free up the available infrastructure for only your most important and critical data.

SMBs also need to look at future proofing their business and purchasing storage that accommodates the organisation for the next three to five years rather than merely solving a current issue. When storage is free from the constraints of individual laptops and devices, it can be put on the network as an independent resource that can be allocated to applications as necessary. As the structure in which the workforce operates changes, namely greater mobility, multi time zones and flexible working hours, it becomes particularly important to have an IT architectural plan that isn’t accidental and is underpinned by networked storage.

- Mark Oakey is the marketing manager, Storage Platforms at EMC Corporation, Australia and New Zealand.