Small businesses get big storage attention

SMB needs are attracting large vendors, especially on the business continuity and services fronts

How is summer treating you? I'll assume well, unless of course you are in one of those areas affected by power outages caused by heat waves, hurricanes, or other calamities like Dennis Kennedy, blogger emeritus and one of the few lawyers I like. Kennedy has been without power for days in St. Louis but finally found a way to update his blog over the weekend. Hang in there, Dennis!

What’s happening to Kennedy reminds me that quite often an emergency has a more severe impact on individuals and small businesses because those targets typically have less resilience built into their systems than larger companies.

In fact, one of the recurring wails I hear when a vendor is pitching yet another data protection scheme is that most SMBs, especially those in the "S" part of that group, don't even have a reliable backup system in place.

Those laments may be marketing-driven, but they are nevertheless true. It's also worth remembering that typical business continuity arrangements, such as mirrored servers, an offsite vault, or an alternate location are also rare in SMB circles. Many small businesses still store their data within their servers' reach rather than sending it to networked devices, which is the storage equivalent of keeping your life savings under the mattress.

Is there room for improvement? Absolutely, but before we get too self-righteous about this, consider that, for a small company, trying to find a proper business continuity arrangement is like jumping through several rings of fire. And looking for appropriate storage is probably the most burning experience of all.

Part of the problem is that most products and commonly adopted strategies for keeping a business going are modeled for large companies. Major storage vendors have finally began to acknowledge that SMBs have different requirements, but will that change the status quo? Perhaps, but although entry-level storage management has seen some simplification, most vendors' efforts seem to be focused on reducing price by, for example, adopting less expensive technologies such as SATA.

More affordable networked storage is an important first step in the right direction but solves only part of the SMB problem because the overall complexity of storage and computing in general remains.

Interestingly, Hewlett-Packard was playing the same tune at a recent event where they announced a new networked storage solution for SMBs that should become available in September.

According to their marketing speech, that solution will combine "shared application server storage, a Windows-based file server, data protection, and management software in an unbelievably simple, uniquely affordable and unquestionably reliable system."

We'll get back to that when HP starts talking straight on the new product family, but there's another interesting development happening in the SMB space courtesy of Iomega.

You may already know that last week, Iomega announced the Iomega REV 70 (check out the photo here), doubling the capacity of this unique removable disk implementation based on 2.5-inch drives. The new drive can read and write older 35GB cartridges, will cost less than $600, and you can buy cartridges for around 70 bucks. Later this year, the new drives will be offered in Iomega autoloaders.

The REV 70 is worth a look, but the real scoop from Iomega is something they just bought: CSCI, a service company that provides a secure connectivity platform, dubbed OfficeScreen, to small businesses.

Why the acquisition? "We see tremendous growth opportunities there," explains Tom Kampfer, president and COO of Iomega. "The provision of managed services to SMBs is highly fragmented. We have 25 years of expertise and can grow the OfficeScreen platform rapidly through our channels. We also see a tie back to storage."

The idea of a large service company focused on the demands of small businesses sounds intriguing, but does Iomega have enough products and services in its portfolio to do this right?

"I can add a whole menu of other services to CSCI OfficeScreen," Kampfer says, hinting that this round of Iomega acquisitions is far from over.

We'll see what other hot SMB news hits the market this summer. Until then, try to stay cool in this torrid weather.

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