Data Storage Appliances and Software Solutions: Which Should You Choose?

There is nothing more crucial to the efficient flow of business within your organization than its data. In today's digital world, it is more important than ever to maintain the safest, most efficient and cost-effective data storage system possible. Hardware manufacturers and software developers have their own opinions on how your data are best served and protected, but there is more to securing and storing your data than simply choosing a solution that looks good.

There are various data storage options available to suit any size business or organization. Many of them fall under one of two categories: data storage appliances and storage software solutions.

A data storage appliance combines the use of software with proprietary hardware to form what appears to be a formidable solution for storing and protecting data. Software solutions rely on existing user-owned third-party hardware to complete the task. While the latter may seem like the weaker option, it can actually work out much more to the benefit of your organization than the former.

How a Data Storage Appliance Works

Data storage appliances employ the use of storage arrays made up of multiple hard disk drives, which work in tandem to store and manage data. These arrays often rely on proprietary hardware to manage the drives and proprietary software to keep data flowing to and from the server(s) over the network.

If one part of an appliance's array ceases to function, new data can be routed around the affected drive, but any data since the last backup could be unreachable until an onsite technician can fix the issue and retrieve them. In some extreme cases, the data can also be lost.

Correcting even a small problem with a storage appliance can be a time-consuming process that can adversely affect productivity. Appliances are very secure and reliable for the most part, but as with anything else, issues almost certainly will arise. When trouble strikes, appliances very often require calling a technician to deal with and fix them.

How a Storage Software Solution Works

A straightforward software-based data storage solution allows for a greater degree of flexibility when constructing a storage array. It does not use a proprietary operating system or hardware. It can be run off of any compatible operating system and can be managed both onsite and remotely using existing hard disks, solid state drives, or other storage devices and adding more over time as needed. Many storage appliances do not support remote access for troubleshooting, updating, and generating logs, while most storage software suites do.

Your Best Option

In the vast majority of cases, software storage solutions provide the better option for data storage and protection. When a part of your disk array breaks or when other issues arise, your IT department can deal with the issue quickly if you are using a software storage solution. Similar problems with an appliance can result in costly repairs and even replacement of the appliance's storage device.

Certified technicians can also remotely troubleshoot and often fix many software-related problems if the issue proves not to be hardware-based. In an appliance environment, the hardware and software are so directly linked it can be difficult or even impossible to troubleshoot remotely.

The Bottom Line

Even appliances run off of software, which makes one wonder what makes a straight software solution any better. If appliances are self-contained solutions, why would anyone opt to only purchase data storage software?

Simply put, the versatility afforded by a software solution makes it a more practical and manageable option. You are not bound to storage limits, like you would be with an appliance. You can add drives and even link full arrays without having to purchase an entire new hardware and software package. Your storage solution can grow with your organization and can be easily maintained and managed from anywhere.

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