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Choosing the right data storage for your business

Businesses in all sectors have data storage needs. Documents, databases and emails constantly flow through businesses of any size and choosing the right infrastructure to store this data on can seem confusing at first. What you decide depends on a number of factors. Things like how fast you need to access the data, how much of it you have and whether it needs to be shared across the company all affect what sort of storage method you use.
One of the most basic types of data storage you can use is an external hard drive. These are available reasonably cheaply nowadays. When it comes to business use, though, there are a lot of disadvantages. Firstly, you’ll need to back up all data on each external drive regularly, a task which could become cumbersome. It may also pose a challenge for file configuration control. You’ll also need to carry the external drive wherever you need it, like if you wanted to carry on working at home for example. Also, it poses a security risk if it is lost or stolen, not to mention it can be damaged through mishandling or misuse.
For companies with mobile employees, a better option might be cloud storage. Companies like Google, Dropbox, SugarSync, Box.net and Mozy offer up their infrastructure to allow you to store, access and manage your data. The cloud is remote and means you can back up your data online to be accessed at any time. It’s worth bearing in mind that file retrieval is only going to be as quick as your internet speed; the more people using the network, the slower it’ll be, which may be a disadvantage for employees on-site. However, cloud storage is very useful for accessing your files wherever you are and for sharing them with others outside the company (password protected, of course).
Network-attached storage (NAS) is a specialised, built from the ground up system that has data storage in mind. This is a small, prebuilt device that comes with software to help you manage your data, meaning it is easier to understand if you don’t have IT technicians on hand. With NAS you can also use multiple hard drives in a RAID array, which means that files written to the first drive are also written to the subsequent drives. This acts as an instant backup device. A NAS system keeps everything easy to manage as all your data is stored in one place. The advantage of NAS is that you can integrate it into your local network, which in most cases is faster than accessing files from an internet-based cloud.
Alternatively, you could use a dedicated file server. Since you are assigning a desktop computer to the sole task of data storage, this is a more flexible option than a NAS as you can run applications and customize further. A dedicated file server is secure, allowing administrators to lock out users and create rules should they so desire. However, using a dedicated file server can be quite a costly approach, especially since a Windows Server License will run you in to a four figure sum. A cheaper alternative would be the NAS.
Each type of data storage comes with its own positives and negatives. The one you decide to go for depends on your business’ specific needs. Ask yourself questions like how much storage space you need, whether you need to access it at all times and if you have the knowledge to set it up and keep it maintained.

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