Businesses with 50 or fewer employees, including home-based businesses need to store ever-increasing amounts of critical business and financial data and protect that information against loss. Though their budgets are limited, their storage and backup needs are just as vital as those of the world’s largest multinational corporations, yet few have the luxury of onsite IT support.

Jeff Tedesco can vouch for that. He’s the president and CEO of ReadyToPlay, a Palo Alto, California-based company that converts (or “rips”) CD collections into digital music libraries for customers who, he says, are “passionate” about their music. Tedesco is just as passionate about protecting his clients’ tunes—which is why he uses Seagate network attached storage products.

Network attached storage (NAS) products can help small businesses centralize and back up all their files to one location, so that they have the freedom to access those files from anywhere, anytime. Here is what NAS allows SMBs to do:

  • Add capacity in an affordable way
  • Store and access files from any PC or Mac computer using your existing network, eliminating the need for multiple hard drives
  • Share capacity with other parties (suppliers, customers)
  • Offer full-proof (RAID) central back up, which can be automated, for extra data protection
  • Share a USB printer across your network
  • Automatically and continuously backup your data to give you peace of mind that all of our files are safe and secure

Tedesco, a former IBM sales executive who launched ReadyToPlay in 2003, maintains a backup of his clients’ music on a Seagate BlackArmor NAS 440 storage server for one month after shipping their digitized collections to them. If the files are damaged in transit or during installation on a PC or home audio system, Tedesco can quickly create a new copy. Hardware-based encryption keeps files secure, and the BlackArmor NAS 440 enables Tedesco and his staff to access and manage files over the Internet, from any Web browser—allowing them to work remotely or from the office.

“Seagate storage plays a huge role in my business, because of the redundancy, security and peace of mind it offers me,” says Tedesco, 50. “Seagate’s BlackArmor NAS 440 works flawlessly. Set-up couldn’t have been easier, and it has all the capacity and speed I need.”

Network attached storage solutions are starting to be used more often by small business professionals today. In fact, according to Gartner, NAS purchases grew 12.6 percent year-over-year between 2008 and 2009 and 2.2 million NAS units were shipped in 2009 according to Gartner. But how do small business professionals—who often wear an “IT hat” as a secondary function to their primary focus for the business—differentiate between all the solutions available out there today? 

First, before you make any NAS purchase, it is advisable to create a storage strategy with certain goals in mind. According to Gartner, organizations that haven't developed a network strategy will spend 20-80% more on their network than those that have invested in developing a long-term plan. Additionally, creating a long-term storage refresh strategy can actually extend the life cycle of the equipment you purchase, increase efficiency and save time and money.  But as any good business decision, IT needs to assess the current situation (access rates, company’s policy, data protection need), investigate and plan carefully (avoiding vendor lock-in, for example).  Most of all, forecasting data growth to make sure the selected solution will scale well. The primary goal of devising an overall storage strategy before you make any purchase is to provide a roadmap to guide investments in infrastructure, operations and people.

Once you have set your business storage strategy, you should evaluate a NAS purchase based on your use case, and stick with redundancy, capacity, and speed as the key benefits.  But remember that the speed and traffic on your local network may be limiting factors, so don't overbuy when it comes to hardware.

In Tadesco’s case, he needed a product that delivered the highest-quality audio experience with the most flexibility. He rips CD collections in a “Lossless” audio-compression format, as well as the MP3 format onto a NAS drive, which streams the music to a home network through Sonos, Squeezebox and other digital receivers that are beginning to replace CD players in many households.

 “A NAS drive like a BlackArmor 440 is a great solution for Lossless music files,” Tedesco explains. “A NAS drive gives you the ability to have integrated backup with RAID capability. It gives you easy access to any digital device, which means any Mac or PC users in the house can enjoy that music any way they like, at any time they want.”    

Here are some other use cases that may assist you when selecting a NAS:

  • For the SOHO (single office) with a couple PCs, a multifunction printer, and a wireless network, look for a product that will help you backup, access and share your files easily. If you want to share more than the storage, consider hybrid devices that use a local USB storage, and an online portal.
  • For workgroups or coworkers in different locations, NAS boxes' wide area connectivity makes it a great way to consolidate and centralize work. You may also create private and shared folders, and you can allocate space to users and folders that only you approve.
  • For a large office (or multiple small offices), look for products that work well as a workgroup storage and backup device. NAS are also ideal for sharing printers via the USB ports.

NAS capacity will vary with the size of the drives and the number of drives on board (two to five). We are talking about up to 10TB-12TB of storage in a high-end SOHO unit.

With NAS products, growing small-businesses don't need an IT department to manage their storage needs. "How do I handle my data growth?" "How can I make sure my employees and customers share important information?" and "How do I keep my critical data safe?"  The answers to your questions may be closer than you think.

Barbara Imbert is a senior marketing manager at Seagate Technology. After 10 years spent in a Market and Competitive Intelligence role, analyzing and predicting the storage industry, she moved to Channel Marketing where she works with the company's Channel partners (system integrators and resellers) to develop tools and programs that enable them to succeed. Mrs. Imbert also contributes regularly to the Seagate's SMB blog, which evaluates the relationship between Channel partners and small businesses and discusses trends in the small business technology arena-