Introduction: As your small business grows, you will inevitably find yourself needing more servers and more storage space. In fact, you might already have multiple servers for file and printer sharing, e-mail, and databases. Managing and backing up the various storage media (disk, DVD-RW, tape, etc.) attached to each of these systems can quickly become an overwhelming problem, not to mention the inevitable wasted space because unused capacity can’t be shared between servers. But iSCSI might be the solution.
What Is This Solution?
iSCSI is a type of Storage Area Network, or SAN, that allows all your servers to use shared disks that are centrally managed. Instead of each server having its own disks with the resulting wasted space and management struggles, you have one large set of disks shared throughout your network. iSCSI is particularly well-suited to small and medium businesses because you can implement your SAN over standard Ethernet cabling. Other types of SANs often require special cabling and dedicated networking gear for connecting the servers to the centralized disk drives.
What Are the Benefits of This Solution?
iSCSI is simpler to set up and often less expensive than other SAN systems, making it an ideal solution for small to medium-size businesses not interested in spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on more complex systems.
Other business benefits of iSCSI storage include the following:
- Central Management of All Your Company’s Storage: This makes backup and disaster recovery issues easier to manage and is helpful when you need to comply with regulations regarding, for example, e-mail backup or credit card data protection.
- Shifting Unused Disk Space to the Applications or Servers That Need It: Because you can easily reallocate space to whichever application needs it, an iSCSI eliminates the need to give every application a lot of extra space “just in case.”
- Adding Storage with No Downtime: A key advantage of iSCSI is that unlike traditional internal disk space you can add more storage disks without bringing down the system. You simply plug in the additional disks. iSCSI automatically formats them and brings them online, and then you can allocate the space to who needs it.
CHECKLIST: When Is This Solution Right for Your Company?
How do you know if iSCSI SAN is right for you? Here are some questions to consider:
- Do you have more than two to three total servers? If you are still running everything on one to two servers, iSCSI would be overkill.
- Are all or most of your servers in a central location? If you have 20 servers in 20 different sales offices, iSCSI would be difficult and expensive to use. The systems accessing the SAN need to have high-speed Ethernet connections to a common point to make sense.
- Do you find backing up your different servers time consuming and error prone? iSCSI can simplify life because you only need to back up one big set of disks instead of many small sets.
- Do you occasionally suffer server downtime because applications run out of disk space? iSCSI storage makes it easier to monitor and manage the space available to each application, and adding space when necessary becomes a simple online process, with no application downtime necessary.
- How big is your overall storage need? If you have more than 20 to 30 servers or plan to spend $300,000 or more, you should also consider other enterprise SAN solutions. You may have a large enough network to make the additional complexity of those approaches worth the trouble.