No matter what the size of the enterprise, data storage consumes a major share of the IT budget. And many enterprises look for ways to reduce their data storage costs. Some general tips for SMBs for acquiring good data services for users include negotiating prices, outsourcing your storage, using data deduplication, and looking into open-source alternatives.
Negotiate with your data storage vendor
Unless you're dealing with a mass merchandiser, prices are seldom fixed in stone. It never hurts to try to negotiate the price of data storage, especially in this economy.
Price, terms and extras such as support are some of the items you can negotiate on in data storage. And often if the vendor won't bend on the price, they will throw in extras, such as more support, to close the deal.
Don't overbuy storage
The first step in trimming your data storage costs is to only purchase what you need --- with allowance for growth. The way to avoid this is to perform a needs analysis, complete with an estimate of future growth of your storage needs. For most SMBs, making a simple Excel spreadsheet with a fixed percentage of storage growth will suffice. Look at how much data you're storing now and how fast your storage is growing. Then see how much of that is in transactional databases and other active, response-critical areas. Use this information to estimate how much and what kind of storage you need, then purchase that much and no more.
Furthermore, you shouldn't look more than three years out in estimating future needs, and often less, depending on the expected life of the system. If your storage system is halfway through a three-year lifecycle, it may make sense to look no further out than 18 months on the growth of your storage needs.
Consider outsourcing your storage
Outsourcing your storage makes a lot of sense, especially for data backups. Storage as a Service (SaaS) doesn't always save you money, but it can. Companies like Amazon, with its Simple Storage Service (S3) or Barracuda Networks will store data off-site for a monthly fee. (Barracuda's plans start at $50 a month for 100 GB.) Because the relative costs depend on your circumstances, you'll have to do individual cost comparisons. Also keep in mind that the charges for managed storage services can vary considerably among vendors.
This strategy can also work well for email archives and other kinds of records that must be preserved but don't need fast access.
Look into tiered storage
Tiered storage usually means having different performance levels of storage and moving data among them according to business rules. When you have different levels of storage, you can save money by using cheaper storage for data that won't interfere with functionality. So, instead of putting all your data on 15,000 rpm SCSI drives, you put material that doesn't need fast retrieval on, say, 5,400 rpm SATA drives, and save a third or more on the cost of the hardware without impacting business performance.
This also applies to how you use your hardware. If you have a mission-critical application that needs the fastest possible recovery time, it may be a good idea to use RAID 10 for storage --- even though RAID 10 requires two bits of storage for each bit of data. However, if you don't need that kind of recovery speed, you can probably get by with RAID 5, which needs just the equivalent of one disk in the array for parity.
Data deduplication can cut your backup storage needs by 90% or more. Data deduplication products comb through your files, eliminating duplicate blocks to reduce the amount of data that needs to be stored and backed up. This results in less data being stored and considerable savings on storage costs. Keep in mind, though, there's the cost of the dedupe software or appliance to be balanced against those savings.
Consider open-source alternatives
Backup software like Amanda from Zmanda, storage management products like StorageIM and programs like Free Online Backup for backing up mobile users, are open-source products that may meet your storage needs while saving you money.
Support varies from product to product. Some, like Amanda have complete commercial quality support available (at an extra cost). Other products, like Free Online Backup, are supported by the user communities.
While the free price is attractive, it's important to evaluate open-source products in the same way you would with competing commercial products. But keep in mind that while open-source products increasingly include full-featured alternatives, not every product, open source, or commercial, has every feature. If the open-source product can't do what you need, then it doesn't matter how little it costs.
About the author: Rick Cook specializes in writing about issues related to storage and storage management.