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Business data storage is getting cheaper — or is it?

The cost of hard drives is falling rapidly and the capacity is rising even faster. But is data storage really cheap for most businesses? That’s a question that has been puzzling me for some time as I watch developments like Seagate planning on producing 48 terabyte HAMR hard disk drives by 2023 and Sony releasing quad-layer Blu-Ray disks with a capacity of 128GB. Such improvements are astonishing given that I can still remember installing Windows 95 from a stack of floppy disks! The question that arises for many businesses, however, is this: if disk storage capacities are rapidly increasing while the price per GB continues to fall, then the news here is only good when it comes to the cost of business data storage, right?

Well, maybe not. It turns out if you give it some thought that there’s more to the cost of data storage than just per GB cost or the cost of hard drives for storing new or archival data. Smaller businesses especially need to be aware and cautious in this regard as they can’t just start throwing money down for bigger drives just because it sounds like they’ll be saving money. Because in some cases they won’t be saving money due to the hidden costs involved in storing business data.

To get more insight into these matters I recently approached Craig Hollins for an answer. Craig is an IT pro who is business manager at PPS, a small managed services provider (MSP) operating out of Perth, Australia. He has been working in IT for more than 25 years with the last dozen or so as an owner of two small IT firms. Earlier this year, I interviewed him about how companies that provide IT support for small businesses can keep recurring revenue flowing into their coffers, which is something that can be challenging in today’s rapidly evolving IT services industry. That article was popular with our readers so I was eager to hear what Craig might have to say about the hidden costs associated with storage of business data. So let’s listen now as Craig delves into the ins and outs of this subject from the point of view of someone who deals with customers facing purchasing decisions concerning storage hardware.

The hidden costs of business data storage

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We all know the cost of hard drives is falling rapidly and the capacity is rising even faster. Moore’s law certainly applies. This leads us to the conclusion that storage is cheap.

But is it?

As an IT pro, I don’t see information — I just see data. My job is to make the data available to the customer so they can interpret it as information. From my perspective, all the data is equally valuable and I cannot determine what is important information and what’s useless.

Like everything in IT, the true cost of a component is often disguised with lots of hidden costs. These costs are often ignored causing budgets to blow out and, worse, system reliability can be compromised. Any business owner knows — or should know — the cheapest part of any computer system is actually buying it. The operation, power and support costs will far outweigh the hardware costs.

So we talk to our small business customer who is looking to upgrade his server. One of the drivers for upgrading is he’s running out of storage space because, like just about every other small business, they never delete anything. Not a problem — the 160GB disks when you sold him the server are now 4TB each. Let’s load it up and make sure he never runs out of space again.

Like everything in IT, the true cost of a component is often disguised with lots of hidden costs. These costs are often ignored causing budgets to blow out and, worse, system reliability can be compromised.

Except that’s what we did when he went from 40GB disks to 160GB. Customers have a habit of filling disk space with data that is no longer required, multiple copies of the same files and so on. Unless we can find a way to re-educate the customer, in five years’ time we’ll be going thru the same upgrade cycle.

Why is it a problem? Let me detail some of the hidden costs.

  • Data that is stored needs to be backed up (and if you ever have a customer say, “Oh, we don’t need to back up our archives” offer to delete it straight away). Backup costs are a function of storage volumes and time it takes to run the backup. The more you back up the more it costs — simple really.
  • Large data stores make it harder to find your data. Unless your client is super organized (this is a small business we’re talking about, remember?) then the files are going to be in folders all over the data volume and many an hour will be spent trying to find that one document. Worse, because it can’t be found they’ll often be recreating the document from scratch thus wasting even more time.
  • But we have search tools to enable us to find the data quickly and easily. Yep, and those tools require training to use as well as extra CPU grunt and memory to run. So a higher spec server is required or a slower response time is the result.
  • Disaster recovery times blow out. This is the one metric you never want to be worried about but if you have a guarantee that you’ll get the client up and running in x hours, time taken to copy the data onto replacement hardware eats into that time.
  • Larger file stores require we have faster Internet and local network links to make them usable.


Those of us who can count our support experience in decades will remember the days of burning documents to CDs — or the even older ones, saving to floppy disks. We then had customers desperate to recover a file because the CD was scratched or the floppy got somewhere near a magnet. We never want to revisit those days.

Nearly all file types are getting bigger demanding more storage space for the same number of documents. New storage requirements for photos and videos make the problem exponentially worse.

We need to be having conversations with our clients about what data they actually require and what they can safely delete. If anyone has ideas on how to speak to clients about this, let me know.

Share your thoughts

What do you think are the hidden costs associated with business data storage? And how does your business make wise decisions concerning purchasing storage hardware and/or services? Share your thoughts on the subject by using the commenting feature below.

Featured image: Shutterstock

Mitch Tulloch

Mitch Tulloch is a widely recognized expert on Windows Server and cloud technologies who has written more than a thousand articles and has authored or been series editor for over 50 books for Microsoft Press. He is a twelve-time recipient of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award in the technical category of Cloud and Datacenter Management.

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Mitch Tulloch
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