by Victoria Thomas
For the storage aficionado, RAID has its upside—namely, its potential for nearly infallible data protection. For the average small business owner, however, RAID is an acronym for storage that creates more problems than the average business owner can solve because of its complexity. Storage is a necessity for SMBs, but the question must be asked: With a technology such as RAID so complex that it requires extensive knowledge on the part of the user, why does anyone still put up with it? What alternatives exist for SMBs needing a simple storage solution that won’t fail?
RAID stands, of course, for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, and indeed redundancy is the key concept of the technology and its reason for being. RAID technology dates back to the late 1980s and involves combining multiple disk drives into a logical unit and distributing data across the drives. A RAID array looks to the operating system as if it were a single disk. Data reliability and performance are present in different measures in the many RAID levels, expressed as RAID 0, RAID 1, and so on, standardized by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).
RAID is typically the next step in the evolution of SMB storage solutions from direct-attached storage (DAS) to DAS with RAID. And RAID has met with huge success in meeting storage challenges, preventing single disk drive failures from causing data loss; in addition, it is used in almost every enterprise data center. The truth is that SMBs often look to RAID for additional protection and availability as they move away from simple DAS — even though they know it will be expensive and will be difficult to deploy. IT managers have to find the dollars to pay for it while IT administrators struggle to learn about the technology and how to configure the SAN. If they can afford it, they either bring someone on board who has experience or they use consultants to help them determine what to buy and how to deploy a RAID array.
To overcome the expense and proprietary nature of hardware-based RAID, RAID controllers (also known as software-based RAID), do not contain a RAID controller chip, but a standard disk controller chip with special firmware and drivers.
Now back to average non-RAID tolerating SMB owners. Ask them to describe their storage solution and you’ll get some interesting answers – ones that include the occasionally practical cloud storage solution along with ones with serious shortcomings, such as external and USB drives. Let’s compare some of these storage solutions.
Pros: The ability to access one’s data from almost anywhere and the fact that it doesn’t require a massive hardware investment are the cloud’s two biggest attractions. What’s more, as a company grows, IT managers can simply purchase more storage, so they never have to pay for more than they need.
Cons: Downtime is a big concern for those considering cloud storage solutions. If you are an SMB owner, access to customer data, inventory, and orders is your lifeline. If data stored in the cloud is unavailable, a business could be seriously impacted in the time it takes you to read this paragraph.
Data security is another concern for those considering cloud storage. Having treasure troves of customer data passing from a business’ network to the cloud can be dangerous. The time it takes to migrate the data between office and cloud can prove to be a drain on network resources. Even worse, storage providers could conceivably close up shop and make it hard or even impossible for SMBs to retrieve their data.
Network Attached Storage
Pros: NAS products are capable of storing and protecting massive amounts of data — and can be extremely useful if you need connectivity primarily for file sharing.
Cons: NAS solutions can be temperamental when it comes to setup and maintenance. Getting the network to recognize the external storage device can be difficult and when hard drives are replaced, the new drive needs to “play well” with the existing drives in terms of capacity and RPM. In addition, to protect their data, SMBs may still need RAID on the back end.
External and USB Drives
Pros: External and USB drives are inexpensive, even for large-capacity drives and can be purchased nearly anywhere. In addition, SMB owners can have backups of their databases.
Cons: Even with some of the larger capacity external drives and because customer and inventory data is so crucial to SMBs, once the drive is full of data, it has to be replaced. This can lead to desk drawers and file cabinets being filled with external storage devices and no way of knowing what is contained on each. Even worse, because of the small size of today’s USB drives, they are easily misplaced.
Going Beyond RAID
Data demands are growing exponentially every year, so the need for simple and effective SMB storage solutions has never been greater. Traditional RAID can take an entire day to set up and format, and that’s frankly a standard that needs to change.
Is it possible to get the benefits of RAID without its downside? Absolutely. The technology market has shown a propensity to take typically complex (and non-user-friendly) technology and change its functionality to allow increased accessibility.
Essentially, there exists a long list of things SMBs should not have to worry about when it comes to RAID, such as:
- Determining which RAID level they need at the time of purchase;
- Being locked into certain makes/models of hard drives used in RAID systems; and
- Losing data
on RAID implementations when replacing a failed hard drive.
RAID storage systems have resided on top of the storage pyramid for SMBs since the technology’s inception in 1987. RAID is unquestionably a solid option for SMBs when it comes to protecting their data, but the need for dedicated technology know-how has forced SMBs to look elsewhere for their storage needs. After all, why would you want to deploy expensive IT resources to support a RAID storage solution when there are other, simpler options that don’t consume IT resources?
Victoria Thomas is the senior product marketing manager at Drobo (San Jose, CA). www.drobo.com