As small and mid-sized businesses adopt new strategies that seek to leverage social networking and collaboration technologies to compete more effectively in global, national or even local economies, owners and managers are seeing the amount of data that must be stored, managed and accessed explode. 

When this is combined with new mandates to protect consumer privacy -- as the credit card industry is aggressively pursuing with companies that process payments through their systems -- businesses face a significant challenge in controlling the cost of data stored, as well as ensuring that the life cycle of information is effectively managed. 

To address this challenge, there is growing awareness -- and even enthusiasm -- about a new technology called data de-duplication.  Also known as single instance storage (SIS), this technology is designed to significantly reduce the amount of physical disk space needed for backup and other archival functions.

How de-duplication works

Data de-duplication – or SIS – configures data processing and storage functions in a way that eliminates or removes redundant files, bytes, or blocks of data to ensure that only unique data is stored on disks, according to analysts at the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG).  It represents a new and interesting alternative to more traditional methods of dealing with data that companies accumulate in the course of their day-to-day business.

 “Organizations are generating and depending upon ever larger volumes of data,” says Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst with the StorageIO Group, of Stillwater, Minn.  The research and consulting firm specializes in advising companies on how to manage storage issues. “Data de-duplication is part of an ongoing effort by organization to reduce their data footprint.”

This foot print grows every day as companies:

  • Collect information about customers in customer relationship management (CRM) applications;
  • Aggregate transactional data from point of sale or Web commerce systems; and
  • Share information with partners in multi-organizational collaboration initiatives.

Solving small business data woes

The importance of storage is rising and becoming a bigger line item on the IT balance sheet.  According to AMI partners, the sales of small and mid-size storage solutions will significantly outpace the overall growth of their other IT investments.  The analysts are anticipating 18 to 20 percent a year growth in spending over the next few years in this segment.   If companies don’t manage their data footprint, they will risk losing control of their storage budget, because there is no sign that the amount of data that is accumulating will abate any time in the foreseeable future.

“De-duplication is effective for data footprint reduction," Schulz says. But it is not a panacea. It is a good solution for backup of same or similar data and files, however, it is not as effective for dissimilar data or online primary storage, he noted.

Nevertheless, vendors are eyeing the small business market for this technology with great anticipation. Quantum Corp., of San Jose, Calif., brought to market a disk-based backup solution that incorporates data de-duplication and replication technologies.

“This is such a step forward that it is impossible to ignore,” says Mike Sparkes of Quantum. Sparkes contends that this technology will plug a major gap in capabilities among small and mid-sized businesses, in particular, and provide a starting point for taming the data storage beast.