Small Office, Home Office Solutions

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SOHO storage options: from pocket devices to capturing data in the cloud

By Lynn Haber

There\’s nothing small about the storage needs of SOHO workers. These bold entrepreneurs may consist of a shop of one or maybe even a handful of people, but like most businesses they are seeing their data storage needs evolve to keep pace with business demands.

Driven by the need to store, access, manage, share and secure documents, emails and attachments, database transactions, customer projects, marketing materials, business presentations, images and video files, small office/home office workers often face the same storage issues as larger shops, but with more limited budgets.

Not surprisingly, there are a number of storage solutions optimized for SOHO and small businesses at agreeable price points. For any given SOHO business, storage options range from USB sticks to external hard drives to network attached storage to cloud storage, so no matter where you are, your data is accessible.

Small and slim storage in vogue

A quick and easy way for the SOHO user to gain storage capacity is to buy an external hard drive. Offered by vendors such as Buffalo Technology, Hitachi, Iomega, Maxtor, Samsung, Seagate, Toshiba and Western Digital, to name a handful, external hard drives come in slim portable formats designed to fit into a backpack, handbag or briefcase while others are designed for the desktop.

There are also smaller, pocket hard drives that fit into a jacket pocket, such as the Western Digital My Passport Studio 500 GB and the Iomega Prestige Portables with up to 500 GB capacity.

The appeal of external hard drives is ease of use, even for the not too tech savvy crowd. Devices can be wired or wireless, and wired devices can connect to a computer via a simple USB cable or FireWire port.

The majority of USB connected external hard drives today support USB 2.0, with a 480 Mbps data transfer rate. However, as evidenced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2011), the number of available faster, 5 Gbps or larger USB 3.0 external storage devices is set to surge this year.

At CES, for example, Buffalo announced a new lineup of USB 3.0 external hard drives; Samsung announced three new lines of consumer external hard disk drives, including two new portable drives and a new desktop drive; and, Seagate introduced the ultra-portable, slim, GoFlex 3.0, to name a few.

FireWire 400 and the faster FireWire 800 external drives are also widely available from storage manufacturers, such as Data Robotics, Fantom, G-tech, LaCie, Iomega, Seagate and Western Digital. FireWire 400 speeds reach 400 Mbps and FireWire 800 has a data transfer speed of about 800 Mbps.

Drives with an eSATA interface are also widely available from all of the popular storage manufacturers.

Targeting Terabytes

Due to rising demand and plummeting component prices, prices for external storage drives are lower than ever. \”A user can spend one hundred dollars on an external hard drive and double or triple the amount of internal storage that comes with their computer. For a couple of hundred dollars, they\’ll probably get more capacity than they need,\” says IDC\’s Justin Jaffe, senior analyst for SMB and Home Office Research.

Terabytes of storage are most commonly found on desktop units, with some products offering multiple mechanisms in a single unit, although smaller size external storage products are targeting terabyte capacity range.

Flash drives, or USB sticks, are commonly used because they’re cheap, handy, convenient, and in short, a great deal. The two most common applications for flash drives are when they are used to transfer files between devices or when they’re used to simply backup certain data.

Capacity ranges in these plug and play devices can be found at 64 MB and less; 256 MB up to 4 – 8 – 16 – 32 – 64 GBs with pricing often found between about $5 and $30, more for high-end USB sticks with built-in security features such as encryption or authentication.

At CES 2011, Lexar announced a redesign of its popular JumpDrive USB product line including new units such as the JumpDrive S70, S50, and V10.

The safe rule of thumb in this respect is to stick with trusted and popular manufacturers such as Kingston, Lexar, Patriot, SanDisk, Sony, and Verbatim, for example.

Networked attached storage, or NAS, is an option for SOHO workers who need to backup and share files among several computers and users. Today, roughly 20% of U.S. home office households that own computers use NAS, according to IDC, as opposed to more than one-third that use external hard drives.

NAS devices come with single or multiple drives depending on the volume of storage capacity required. Business users that should consider NAS include those who need a shared storage device, multiple terabytes of storage, multiple drive units and redundancy.

NAS is typically a self-contained appliance, like a server, with its own operating system, and commonly uses an existing Ethernet interface, although some wireless models exist. Some features to consider include capacity, performance, file compatibility, backup, disaster recovery and security.

Pricing varies, but on average, range from a couple of hundred dollars to $500-$600 and up depending on features. Units can be found from vendors such as Buffalo, Cisco Linksys, Dell, EMC Iomega, HP, NetGear, Seagate and Western Digital, among others.

Reaching for the clouds

Cloud storage, or virtual storage, is an emerging option for SOHO business. Both Iomega and Buffalo introduced ‘personal cloud technology’ at CES 2011, which essentially makes stored business data accessible via the Internet.

Iomega\’s Personal Cloud turns an Iomega NAS into a cloud server, according to Jonathan Huberman, CEO, and only costs the one-time fee for the box.

\”Buy another NAS and put it off-site as a back-up device for local data,\” he adds.

Buffalo\’s newly introduced personal cloud solution is the CloudStor NAS.

For SOHO workers who need remote access to storage, online services makes sense, says, Anil Miglani, senior vice president at AMI-Partners. \”Some providers also offer backup, archival or disaster recovery functionality for an additional cost,\” he adds.

Pricing for online data storage is based on capacity and length of time the data resides with the provider. Mozy’s MozyPro pricing, for example, is $3.95/month + $0.50/GB per month for a desktop license and $6.95/month + $0.50/GB per month.

Whatever storage solution fits your SOHO business data storage needs, a top criterion for any option is vendor and product reliability because there’s no data like secure data.

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