While you drink your coffee and listen to the morning news tomorrow, try an experiment to see how important the data stored in your laptop is to your business. Instead of placing your laptop in your briefcase, as you would normally do, put it in a drawer, lock it, and leave it there for the rest of the day.
How well do you think you will be able to do run your business? Probably not as well.
In the same situation, most of us would probably not be able to professionally function at all, not because of the hardware locked in the drawer, but because of the impossibility to access the invaluable information stored in it: winning proposals, financial plans, emails from employees and customers alike, and -- hidden somewhere special -- sensitive data such as your frequent flyer account and credit card numbers.
Information rules our world, and digital data is the how most of the information we use today is organized and stored.
Locking the laptop in the drawer is an experiment that helps illustrate how that data is at the core of the professional lives of business owners and entrepreneurs. The collection of data we use every day to run our businesses composes our “business intelligence” and the importance of being able to find it and retrieve it is quickly increasing. Imagine a restaurant that cannot access its dinner reservation files for a month, or a furniture importer that cannot access its shipping documents for an entire container of goods, or an accountant that cannot retrieve its customers’ electronic tax files.
In order to maintain business continuity by ensuring ready access to data, here are a few suggestions on up and coming ways to address your data storage needs.
1. Outfit all your important PCs with RAID technology.
The most common way to store data today is on hard disk drives (HDDs). With capacities of over 750GB each, and quickly increasing thanks to a new technology called “perpendicular recording,” HDDs store huge amounts of data for a very low cost. HDDs, however, are still subject to possible failure, and in some cases retrieving data from a damaged hard disk is impossible. A technology known as Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks (RAID) offers a good solution to the HDD reliability issues for critical data. RAID has been available for over 20 years but only recently it has become inexpensive enough to be used outside specialized applications. In its basic configuration, RAID allows a user to replicate, or “mirror” data over two regular HDDs in real time. If one fails, the other has a full copy of the data available for use. Most desktops can be easily outfitted with RAID technology and the first generation of laptops with built in RAID has recently made its debut on the market.
2. Extend your storage capacity with high-speed external drives and share critical information using simple network attached storage solutions.
Even with larger and larger storage disks inside our computers there never seems to be enough space to store everything we need for business. The simplest solution to expand your everyday data storage capacity is to add one or more external hard disk drives. USB 2 or Firewire connections allow for blazing data transfer speeds making this type of storage perfect for data that does not need to be accessed as frequently. Portable external drives reach up to 200GB in capacity in form factors that fit in a shirt pocket and often do not require external power supply. To protect the privacy of data stored in an external drive you should consider utilizing software that encrypts it and decrypts it on the fly when you need to retrieve it.
If your business needs to share data among multiple users, the newest generation of Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices -- external hard dives that can connect directly to a network -- have become affordable, simple to setup and use, allowing for multiple users to concurrently access them, in some cases even wirelessly.
3. For long term backup or data archiving consider recordable HD or Blu-Ray DVDs
As mentioned, HDDs are generally subject to possible failures due to wear and shocks, making them not ideal for long-term data archiving or long term backups. To simply archive data for long-term preservation, one great option is using writable DVDs. Sturdy, inexpensive, with a long shelf life, they can store 4.7GB for the single layer type or 8.5GB for the dual layer type. On the horizon, two new DVD standards that have reached the consumer market for high definition movies are just now becoming available as data storage devices within the next few months: HD DVD (15 GB single layer and 30 GB dual layer) and Blu-Ray DVD (25 GB single layer and 50 GB dual layer). Writable DVDs provide a reliable means to archive critical data, and these new standards offer the capacity that businesses require today.
Our electronic data is becoming the most relevant source of information for all types of business decisions. The capability of storing and retrieving data has become for most small businesses a “mission critical” task, the continuity of which must be assured. The higher the value of our business data, the more critical it becomes and the more attentive our choices on how to store it, protect it and access it need to be.
Andrea Peiro is president and CEO of the Small Business Technology Institute, a non-profit organization created to foster the adoption of information technologies among small businesses.