Data Storage Solutions

02 July 2008, by A. Cedilla

Data management and protection is key to your business success, whether it involves your customer database, financial reports, inventory, trending analysis or company expansion plans. After all the effort to collect your information, insufficient or unsuitable storage can break your forward momentum and impede your business growth.

How and where you store it can protect this information gold-mine and give you some peace of mind. Aside from the basic CD , DVD or even tape-drives , currently there are two ways to do this:
At-hand storage: fixed/internal (inside your computer) or portable/ external hard-drives
On-line: off-site storage by another party

At-hand Storage
Magnetic hard-drive disks (HDD) have been the computing standard since the 1950’s when it comes to data storage, and it was only in the past few years that solid state drives (SSD) were introduced to the general public.

While you probably know about HDD’s, SSD’s are basically very high-capacity flash drives, giant cousins to the ubiquitous little thumb-sized widgets you see dangling from lanyards or keychains.

With no moving parts, SSD’s:

  • Come with faster data access
  • Have more protection against vibrations, temperature extremes and dust than HDD’s.

Lighter (and currently more expensive) than HDD’s, SSD’s are primarily designed for portability, speed and lap-top twinning.
The latest portable hard drives, whether HDD , SSD or a hybrid of the two, basically offer:

  • Private protection – they can store all your data on the unit itself and not on the PC you’re currently using, using strong file encryption.
  • File-synching from your PC, with just a push of a button
  • USB 2.0 plug and play capabilities
  • Some can even reboot, recover and rollback you PC from system failure or viruses/spyware damage, as long as you’ve backed it up.


Online storage

Online storage means your data is stored in a second-party’s designated space. While you should always keep your current, frequently used or updated information backed up and at hand, and archive your older, seldom used but still valuable files for reference purposes, online storage can provide good secondary protection in case your primary back-ups are damaged.

Most online storage or backup services have their own client software that allows you to use their services as if they were just extensions of your desktop, allowing drag-and-drop execution.

Usually they offer the same features, letting you select certain files to back-up or schedule a full backup in one of two ways:

  • Differential (the services backs your data up in real-time)
  • Incremental (backing up an open file as you change it.)

You can also share files on-line, letting selected people access designated files on the site’s server. This is a good substitute to emailing large attachments, since different email services have different attachment limits and mailbox sizes. Business owners can share their documents with remote users as needed.

Many storage serves also use one kind of encryption when you upload or download your files, and another kind of encryption to shield your data on their servers. For additional protection, they can also keep backup copies of your files in physically secure locations off-site.

Online storage comes in two flavors: free or paid. Some companies offer free storage up to a certain limit, and you start paying once you go over it. Other companies have “pay-per-use” schemes where you only pay for the storage you use.

Different companies also offer varying back-up services. There are dozens of them out there. For starters, check out Data Deposit Box, Xdrive, Humyo or Mozy, among others.


On free storage:

If you use Mozilla Firefox and have a Gmail account, which has about a 2 GB of space, a simple add-on called Gmail File Space – gspace 0.2 can convert your Gmail into an online storage solution, letting you send files from your computer to your Gmail account. This add-on lets you bypass the 10 MB limit that Gmail places on email attachments. Caution: Don”t upload more than 2 GB worth of data in a day, or you might find that your account disabled temporarily.

Whether free or not, bear in mind the following:

Consider carefully what kind of data you store on-line. The service may be encrypted, firewalled, and the data stored in a nuclear bunker, but the employees handling everything else on the back-end may be able to access your files.

Remember the issue with a U.S presidential candidate’s confidential passport information being accessed? If your business depends on proprietary designs, top-secret recipes or slit-throat-before-reading formulas, think very hard about where you put it and who can access it.

Compatibility: Data-storage companies with their own client software often design them with Windows in mind. Check the fine print.

Automation saves you from doing it yourself. The best services offer you an array of choices on how and when you back up. Full backup, incremental, daily, at night when it”s off-peak, only when you want to or at a scheduled time, it’s your choice.

Internet connection speed determines how fast your backup goes. From dial-ups to DSL to broadband to T1’s, the speed determines the time spent on file uploading.

Redundancy: Always have a back-up, somewhere you can get to quickly. Hardware failure. Software corruption. Acts of God. Hackers. Viruses and malware. Act of kids. Catastrophic data loss. Acts of pets. As in investing, diversify. Protect your critical data.


Choosing the best fit

– Bigger isn’t always better.

Think of your current and future needs. Are you expanding anytime soon? Would you need a bigger, integrated database which would require more disk space, or are you just starting out, testing the waters with a little moonlighting on the side?

Waiting a few months for prices to fall as newer hardware comes out the market is okay if your business isn’t particularly time-sensitive, especially as the manufacturers keep refining the kinks out and add more features. You can also try out the free online services to see which one suits your needs best if you don’t want to commit to their paid service.

– Consider your budget.

The biggest drive with bells and whistles on top isn’t going to cut it if you don’t maximize its use, or actually need that much space. Save your money for more crucial aspects of your business.

Someone who goes online once or thrice a week to check his eBay account has different requirements from a power-seller running a international online store.

– Location is key.

Alright. All your data is backed up the wazoo. Cool.

Except it’s in the same computer, maybe on a separate hard-drive, or on an external HD in the same physical location. Or maybe on DVD carrels in the closet.

Thieves can break in. Accidents happen. Lightning strikes, a fire, those nasty mutant ants that keep popping up and nesting in your PC casing — and with the weather as unpredictably fierce as it is nowadays, you may not be able to afford that anymore. Flash floods aren’t good for basement offices. And file retrieval services can be lethally expensive for your small business.

Do you travel a lot? The smaller portables make more sense. Lighter and less strain on your shoulders when you pack it in your laptop bag. Online storage lets you access you files from any computer with an internet connection.

Maybe you just need to archive older data off your PC. A desktop drive is an external that you just attach for back up. It sits right on your desktop with your monitor and doesn’t take up as much space as a PC case. Some of the smaller models are about as big as a paperback novel standing upright. Or maybe a smallish binder.

Short-term, think of your budget and actual requirements. Long term: think of your possible expansion needs, and system upgradeability. Test and try out various combinations to find the best balance of functionality and flexibility that fit your needs. But either way, and in any case, back it up.

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