Most small businesses don’t plan to remain small forever, and part of the growth process means that as the business grows so will its technology needs. One area where growth can’t be stopped regardless of the size of a company is data storage. Every day new files are created, reports are generated, and other information is processed -- and much of this needs to be retained.

This is why scaleable storage is so vital for small and mid-sized businesses.

“The term speaks for itself,” says Natalya Yezhkova, research manager for storage systems for IDC, the Framingham, Mass. IT research firm. “Scalable storage lets an [small to mid-sized business] or any kind of user start small and grow as they need.” While starting storage capacity can be determined by business needs and limitations on a start-up budget, scalable storage offers the big advantage of being flexible. It allows the storage capacity to grow as the business scales.

Advantages to scalable storage

Determining what is the right type of scalable storage means looking at the pros and cons offered by each. Krishna Chander, storage specialist for iSuppli Corp., a market research firm, says that the biggest advantage of scalability is the flexibility offered to small and mid-sized businesses. He explains that there are three primary means for scalable storage growth:

  • The first way is simply to increase your footprint. “You can buy more equipment and add on it to," Chander says. A business "can grow from 1TB of storage to 2TB by simply adding a second TB drive.”
  • The second way is to replace older hardware. While this might require replacing each hard drive, and this can become a laborious task, it can pay off in ways that weren’t originally considered. “Everything should run faster, and is now replaced with improved technology," Chander says. "There are some costs with adding extra features, but no additional space is taken. More importantly this is newer technology and newer warranties are in place.”
  • The third method is to off load the data. This could be to a secondary storage system, where files that aren’t needed can be backed up, to external drives or even archived to CD-ROM. This can generally be the most cost effective, but on the downside back-ups can be lost or even stolen.

Disadvantages for going with scalable storage

Simply adding extra equipment might not even be an option if space is also an issue. “That means you’re taking more space,” says Chander. “Are you adding more racks? And with more capacity there is might need to be someone to manage the extra storage?”

There is also the issue of cost. This is one of the immediate disadvantages of scalable software. “More storage could mean extra software licenses, and some of this might not be obvious from the beginning,” says Yezhkova, adding that you should consider whether there are limits to how much you can expand, and the costs involved. “You need to consider the cost structure upfront so that the [business] doesn’t pay more in the long run.”

Andrew Fischer, administrator of, says that he prefers network appliances to PC workstation for storage. “Employees can still do everything that they need to do while using a network appliance, but restrictions can easily be set in place to monitor employee activity, keep employees out of areas they don't need to be, and minimize distractions," Fischer says. "Network appliances provide an excellent solution to keeping many projects on task. They are also more secure as outside data cannot be easily inserted into the intranet.”

The disadvantages of network appliances are primarily the fact that employees will generally be unable to save or load any files to or from a portable or local device. But for many IT professionals, that could actually be seen as good thing.

How to decide on your business storage needs

Here are some questions you need to ask about your business to determine which type of storage best meets your business needs.

  • How integrated is the current IT staff with the business? Will increased storage mean more integration with IT?
  • Will the business need additional storage expertise? Will a manager be able to control the growth?
  • Does the current office situation allow for growth? Is there room for additional rack storage?
  • Does the company have compliance or regulatory issues, and must they comply with data protection requirements to safeguard client information?

The best way to plan ahead, Fischer says, is by comparing past growth trends with future projections, making sure to scale facilities, hardware, staff, etc. in accordance with not only your business goals, but -- more importantly -- your business trends.

The biggest thing to keep in mind, says Fischer, is that unless data is being truncated periodically, it will be growing in size infinitely over time. This means keeping a frequent eye on storage use, and planning ahead. “Running out of storage, or failing to keep up-to-date backups of all important data can very quickly lead any business to a halt,” Fischer says.

SIDEBAR: Storage Vendors

Protecting the data of small and mid-sized businesses is actually big business. Traditional storage vendors have been catering to the small business market, says Krishna Chander, storage specialist for iSuppli. Several established hardware makers are offering systems designed for small and mid-sized business needs:

The Dell/EMC CX3-10c Disk Storage Array is highly flexible in the face of unforeseen growth and can support up to 64 servers and 60 drives in the storage array.

The HP StorageWorks Modular Smart Array 1000 Small Business SAN Kit is a scalable solution that can manage up to 42 drives and offers up to 12.8 terabytes of data storage without the complexities of operating a storage area network.

The IBM System Storage DS3000 promises to help your business go from 0 to 3.6 terabytes of data storage "in no time flat." It scales up to 48 hard disk drives.