Introducing physical backup: DAS, NAS and tape

Small business consultant Davey Winder explains how choosing the right backup products can make all the difference to data security.

Small business doesn’t mean small storage needs. The amount of data businesses create is growing year by year, and by choosing the wrong backup strategy you’re putting that data at risk – and your business with it. No matter how small your company, you need to plan properly when it comes to storage.

The worst thing you can do is rely on tools designed for home, such as backing up to a single, cheap, external USB drive. Nor should you trust individuals to back up their own systems: human nature means that, far more often than not, this won’t happen.

Because most local backups will involve simply copying of a set of files from one directory or drive to another, there's also a problem with unnecessary duplication of data. That means longer than necessary backup times and larger than necessary backup folders.

Finally, you aren’t factoring in the worst-case scenario: the drive failing and taking your business critical data with it.

Home user solutions are, quite simply, a false economy and business critical data demands business level storage and backup.

Thankfully there are hardware solutions to fit every working environment and every budget; hardware backup solutions that will make it easy for you to copy your data to a physical device, be that tape- or disk-based, and store it safely offsite and access it from anywhere.

When considering your small business backup strategy, even where low cost is the key requirement, it's far better to factor in the value of reliability, security and automation. That way you’ll be able to sleep easily at night too.

The benefits of tape storage

Tape storage, despite what you may have read, is not dead.

It remains one of the most popular data storage and backup technologies for huge numbers of small businesses for three key reasons: low cost, an easy route to secure offsite storage and a proven data archival life of up to 30 years.

Tape is best suited to the small business that wants reliable backup protection on a budget but where the timeliness of data is less of an issue. It’s usually used where a weekly data backup is required, although daily backups can be made without too much administrative overhead by implementing software automation tools and tape autoloader hardware.

Tape becomes less suitable when it would hurt your business if you can’t find the data quickly. It takes longer to restore data because you have to wind through the tape to find it, so if you rely on quick access – for example, if sales will come to a standstill if you don’t have the data for half a day – then you should look at alternatives.

The benefits of DAS

Direct attached storage, better known as DAS, is best suited to smaller businesses with a mid-sized budget that are looking for daily rather than weekly backups from a single server, or even PCs or laptops.

Because DAS is as simple as plugging the drive into your system, there’s no learning curve required: a huge bonus for businesses without dedicated IT staff. It’s also a quick and easy way to expand server storage that has reached maximum capacity.

Throw in the huge storage capacities now available, fast data transfer rates and direct access to your files – unlike tape, there’s no need to rewind to find the data you’re looking for – and the attraction to the small business becomes clear.

Probably the biggest advantage is the ease of expansion, with no additional hardware being required when capacity is reached; just replace the cartridge with another. Dell PowerVault RD1000 preformatted cartridges are not only small and lightweight enough for convenient off-site storage, but they’re durable enough to withstand a drop from a metre.

As with tape, DAS isn’t for everyone. Initial costs are low, but bear in mind that both the complexity of administration and your hardware costs will rise once your business grows and starts adding more servers, desktops or laptops into the mix.

If your business is small enough that this kind of scalability isn’t an issue, then DAS should be on your data backup and storage radar.

The benefits of NAS

Network attached storage (NAS) used to be reserved for the large enterprise, but in recent years it’s become much more attractive to smaller businesses. It’s now a cost-effective way to access data anywhere, while offering near real-time backup and recovery.

The key is that, unlike tape or DAS, NAS is connected to your network, which means your key files can be accessed by a mobile workforce across the internet. The more servers are connected to your office network, the cheaper it becomes both in terms of the cost per gigabyte to store and the ongoing administration rates (that is, <i>your</i> time).

NAS is highly scalable, and multiple computers can share the same storage space simultaneously, so there are no additional nasty cost surprises when the data needs of your business grow.

Although no other hardware option has the proven archival life of tape, Dell NAS solutions come close: you’re buying enterprise-grade hard drives, which translates into much greater reliability (the technical term is “mean time between failure”, the predicted amount of time a hard disk will last).

Even if one drive does fail, if you buy a NAS that uses RAID technology then your data can be “mirrored” across more than one drive. That means if one disk did fail your data is perfectly safe on the other, and you can replace the broken one without interruption to your business or the need to call in dedicated IT support.

NAS is best suited to companies where data needs to be backed up much more frequently and restored more quickly than tape allows, while providing instant access for mobile workers no matter where they are.

Hourly backups can be easily configured and automated, meaning that NAS is ideal for a small office with a flexible workforce where such a fire-and-forget solution can be trusted to get the job done without the help of an IT department.

If you’re an “accidental IT manager”, then NAS should hold no fear for you as the physical storage appliance is attached to your network by simply plugging in an Ethernet cable. Configuration is just as simple, being pretty much point and click, courtesy of Dell kit that comes complete with Windows Storage Server 2008.

The benefits of Windows Storage Server 2008

Microsoft’s Windows Storage Server 2008 is a popular platform for NAS devices for a number of good reasons, ease of use and Microsoft support amongst them. File de-duplication saves precious storage space and backup time (and therefore money) by actively comparing and eliminating identical files.

Perhaps best of all, though, Windows Storage Server 2008 removes the fear commonly associated with setting up a server, as Dell supplies it as part of that pre-configured storage appliance.  You literally just plug in an Ethernet cable and then follow the wizards on a connected computer.

The browser-based management dashboard allows anyone who is comfortable using a Windows-based PC to take control of the storage server without the need for specialist training or a dedicated IT manager.

So, if you do ever need to restore files in an instant, Windows Storage Server 2008 will make it as simple as it can possibly be.


So what next? Each business has different needs, so we strongly advise you call in experts. While that can mean IT consultants, an excellent first choice is to ring Dell on xxxxxx. This isn’t its usual sales line: it will put you through to specialists in small business products, covering both software and hardware. They should be able to advise you on precisely which products suit your business, and how to implement them.

There are also a number of resources on Dell’s own website to consider, such as its overview of storage hardware.

If you’re interested in tape storage, then take a look at Dell’s Tape Automation Sizing Tool: this will tell you exactly how many tapes you’ll need for your business.

Finally, it’s well worth taking some time to find out exactly what Microsoft’s Windows Storage Server 2008 can do for your business.


DAS - Dell Powervault MD1200

NAS - Dell Powervault NX200

Dell Tape Automation Sizing Tool

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