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High-end storage on an SMB budget


Storage August 2006 Special Supplement


Storage, like every other computer technology, is getting faster, smaller and cheaper. For many shops, the operative word is "cheaper," as tight IT budgets often dictate purchase considerations and sometimes even trump defined requirements.

Limited spending power is usually associated with smaller companies, but even large enterprises can find themselves strapped when faced with the storage needs of numerous remote offices.

Disk prices continue to spiral downward, while performance and reliability have improved. Prices down, performance up translates into inexpensive networked storage systems with the power that pricey enterprise arrays delivered only a generation or two ago.

Storage hardware may be approaching "commodity" status with cheap, interchangeable parts, but it's still a far cry from the commoditization of the PC market. Not long ago, a decent desktop PC would set you back $2,000 or more. For that same amount of money today, you can snap up a dual-processor server and still have some change rattling around in your pocket.

These are don't-even-think-twice-about-it prices--just buy it and run it. It shows how profoundly standardization can affect an industry. That level of standardization hasn't arrived in the storage world, but standards are creeping in and lowering prices.

Even with a budget that would barely fill a Best Buy shopping cart, you may still have a shot at a Fibre Channel storage system. Big and small industry players alike have rolled out low-cost SAN-in-a-box kits that include all of the needed parts with "some assembly required."

A terabyte of networked storage can be had for less than $10,000, with a bevy of alternatives to choose from. But consider that $10K something of a down payment on your storage infrastructure. The storage will have to be managed and supported, and those costs will likely match or exceed the original purchase price.

Get a detailed and hands-on demo of any low-cost system so you can see it in action. Vendors have taken great pains to build SMB products with user interfaces and wizard-driven functions that hide a lot of the underlying complexity. Look for "hidden" costs, too. For example, you may need to pull cable to add or extend a network, or your storage package may not include switches or host interfaces.

Make sure your maintenance fees include the level and amount of support you'll need--get it in writing and talk with similarly sized companies that are currently using the vendor's product.


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