Data storage options explained

What is Data Storage?

Data; what is it, why do we need it, why do we have so much of it, what’s the best way to store it?

That’s a lot of questions, let me help to steer you towards some answers. Data is everywhere. Literally. And we are creating more of it than ever. In fact, we have created more data in the last three years than in the entire previous history of the human race!

There are two types of data: structured and unstructured.

Structured data refers to any data located in a fixed field within a record or file and is most often generated to support a transaction and is usually stored in a relational database or spreadsheet. Structured data is almost always kept within the application itself or a database.

Unstructured data is a generic label for describing any information that is not organised in a pre-defined manner. It is typically text-heavy, but may contain data such as dates, numbers, and facts as well. It is broken down into two categories: ‘textual’ and ‘non-textual’:

Examples of textual unstructured data are email messages, PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets etc.

Examples of non-textual unstructured data are JPEG images (photos), audio and video files.

Ninety-five percent of the annual data growth is coming from unstructured data. If you think about what’s currently on your computer’s hard drive either in the office or at home, you probably won’t find this statistic to be that shocking.

Okay, so we have all of this data, now what do we do with it in order to store it effectively, and, more importantly than ever, securely?

Firstly, we need to understand what storage options are available:

External hard drive

Like what is already installed in your desktop or laptop computer except these can be plugged into your machine as and when required. Thus, they can be stored separately so they could be used for very basic backups. The main advantage of these drives is that they are a relatively cheap way of storing data. Potential disadvantages are that they are not very secure and they need to be handled relatively delicately.

Solid state drive

These types of drives have become increasingly popular over the last few years due to their robustness and the speeds at which they can read and write data. Prices are beginning to come down but they are still a lot more expensive than traditional internal or external hard disk drives. You also have the same security concerns over traditional external hard disk drives.

Network Attached Storage (NAS)

Consider these as a mini network of sorts. They are simply one or more regular hard disk drives connected to your network via an Ethernet port. You can then see them on your computer like any other hard drive. The key advantages are that they are very good for local backups for networks and small businesses. They can hold large amounts of data and can be set up with redundancy. Disadvantages include that they are difficult to bring offsite, which means they are to be used only as a local backup and are therefore still susceptible to disasters at your premises such as fire, flood and theft.

USB thumb drive / flash drive

Extremely robust and highly portable due to their size, however they are quite limited on the amount of data they can hold. They are also relatively expensive in terms of £s per GB that they can hold. We’ve also all heard tales of these tiny devices being lost or left where they shouldn’t have been. The security of them is a major stumbling block for some.

Optical drives (CD/DVD/Blu-Ray)

These might be fine for music or movies etc, but they really shouldn’t be used for data storage due to their relatively short life-span, small storage space capabilities and proneness to damage.

Cloud storage

This, in a nutshell, is storage space accessible from any internet connection. Your data is held in an offsite data centre. Some companies offer a small amount of storage for free (Google, Dropbox, Microsoft etc.) with more space, and enhanced security options, available if you pay a subscription fee. Major advantages of offsite storage are; that it is not affected by potential disasters that could occur at your premises’ It is highly reliable (most companies offer a 99.9% financially backed SLA) and, it is backed-up to a separate location. Disadvantages include the potential for speed issues if you don’t have a fast enough internet connection. You also need to be aware that some providers may host your data outside of the UK. You should ensure your data is held in a UK data centre where the security is at its most stringent.

As you can see there are many options to consider for storing your data. Perhaps different solutions for your unstructured and structured data would be best. Our experts would be delighted to hear about your data storage requirements and offer advice on the best, and most cost-effective, way to handle it.

OGL can offer a solution to suit any business’s needs. Our consultants will work with you to understand what is the best option for your business.

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