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SMBs weigh cost of SAN vs. DAS

Researchers define the point at which it makes more sense to choose a storage area network over direct-attached storage.

Where will your IT department be spending its money this year?

If you answered "data storage," you'll have plenty of company.

Info-Tech Research Group Inc. recently surveyed 1,400 IT professionals to find out where their organizations are spending money in 2005; storage ranked high as a priority for many. Info-Tech predicts that storage spending will increase by 30% to 35% this year, with most small and medium-sized companies beginning to think about storage area networks (SANs) to meet growing storage needs.

SANs -- special-purpose networks for connecting various storage devices -- aren't for everyone, even though the market is expected to grow by 40% this year. "The first thing you have to do is assess your needs," said Curtis Gittens, a co-author of the report and senior research analyst for London, Ontario-based Info-Tech. "Look and see if you really do need a SAN, even though SANs are affordable, it might not necessarily be the right time for you."

The tipping point, Gittens said, comes when an organization has six storage servers. "[The] price is less for DAS [direct-attached storage] until you get to this critical point," he said. "That's the first thing that you should look at. Then come the issues of backup and being able to manage with a smaller backup window and having a disaster recovery plan in place."

Most SMBs can meet their storage needs with iSCSI or IP SAN, and will not need to go the more expensive Fibre Channel route, Gittens said.

Linda Gerull, geographic information systems (GIS) manager in Pierce County, Wash., said the county government there prioritized scalability when choosing its storage system. "We started with 1 terabyte and we very quickly went to 6 terabytes within a year," she said. "We used to double every two to three years, and now we're doubling just about every year."

Quick data recovery was another must for Gerull. A disk-based backup device has allowed her to keep about two weeks' worth of data for easy access and recovery.

Gittens recommended organizations evaluate their disaster recovery plan when evaluating a SAN. "Is your current disaster recovery plan sufficient or do you need more storage?" he said. "Is your backup window shrinking? Do you have enough time to backup the files? If you don't, you need to look at a SAN."

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