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The trouble with storage is that it’s difficult to manage, so very few organizations do it well. It’s kind of like the digital equivalent of cutting the hedges; many IT staffs don’t do it particularly well because they’re secretly hoping that somebody else will just show up and do it for them. Unfortunately, most small-to-medium (SMB) organizations don’t have the resources to hire somebody to manage their storage systems, so what they are really hoping for is that somebody will show up with storage systems that more or less manage themselves.

There are two products from separate vendors being launched today that are a significant step in that right direction.

The first is the the Drobo B1200i, a storage array that automatically distributes data across solid-state drives (SSDs) and hard drives that is priced under $20,000.

Drobo CEO Tom Buiocchi says like all Drobo storage products there is no need to configure the system, and automated tools make sure that most often used data is stored on the SSDs. The Drobo B1200i, says Buiocchi, is designed for organization with up to 500 users and pricing ranges from under $10,000 for 12 TB of storage to less than $15,000 for 24 TB of hard disk storage. A system with 18 TB of hard disk storage and three SSDs is priced under $19,000. SSDs and hard drives can be added to the system incrementally and applications using the system automatically discover the additional storage capacity, says Buiocchi.

The second offering is version 7.5 of the FalconStor Virtual Tape Library (VTL) from FalconStor Software, which in addition to being much faster adds support for a variety of data deduplication methodologies.

Falconstor backup systems now support inline, concurrent, post-processing data deduplication, which Darrel Riddle, FalconDtor senior director of product marketing , says gives customers the most flexible approach to data deduplication possible. While on paper data deduplication should be a no brainer, but it turns out that usage of data deduplication, especially in the SMB arena, is far from universal. With the latest release of the company VTL software, Falconstor is attempting to make it easier to backup massive amounts of data, even to the point of reaching sustained rates of more than 28 terabytes per hour with inline deduplication and more than 40 terabytes per hour with post processing, says Riddle.

As the amount of data that SMB organizations have to manage continues to increase, many of them are clearly struggling. Manufacturers of enterprise-class storage systems have seen this as an opportunity to bring some of their more sophisticated offerings down market. To a certain degree that can work, but it’s not quite the same thing as having products that were engineered from the ground up for SMB customers that don’t have a lot of time to deal with intricate storage management nuances. What they really want is something they can set and pretty much forget.

Of course, more than a few solution providers would be more than happy to manage storage on behalf of any number of SMB customers. But even in certain departments of the enterprise, all customers really want is someplace to store stuff that doesn’t get in the way of the production applications that are dependent on storage area networks or network-attached storage (NAS) systems.

But the service companies both large and small are really looking for is for someone to show up and help them figure out what data actually needs to be on the SAN, what data needs to backed up where, and what data can reside preferably in the cloud somewhere. The fact is that a solution provider can make a lot of money proving a service that classifies data based on its value to the customer without ever actually selling a piece of hardware.

Of course, both Drobo and FalconStor are anxious to have partners reselling their equipment. But the point remains that regardless of what the equipment itself costs, it might actually be a whole more valuable as a means to a much larger end.