Storage in startups

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Storage in startups

Creative companies start in various ways - normally from a small beginning. It could be the freelancer who gets together with a few like-minded people, friends with a shared passion, or even part of an existing business splitting away to stand alone.

Whatever the route to this genesis, the process ends up with a room of individual workstations sharing external disks or using Google or Dropbox to manage file sharing and data exchange. Eventually it becomes apparent that to improve workflows and efficiency centralised storage is the way forward.

Depending on the inevitably eclectic mix of hardware involved the usual way forward will be the simplest choice - often a NAS that caters for Windows and OSx allowing freelancers to come and go, leaving their data behind in some sort of directory file structure, the setup and orchestration of which comes from the history of the founders.

This NAS will generally be a desktop unit requiring minimal administration and allowing a degree of performance. It can often end up being used as a transfer/drop folder to make file sharing easier for people working locally. Sometimes the founding collective will approach a more generic IT company or know “that guy” who’s super technical and they’ll recommend a server (often Windows-based). This comes with a weighty administration threshold, making “that guy” crucial for the entire the life of the server and the evolution of the company until workloads exceed performance.

The tipping point for a material change in storage infrastructure depends on what work you’re catering for. Upgrade cycles also vary with workload and staff numbers. The startup with a NAS generally runs until they hit 7-10 people or they’re doing work where some sort of compute node (generally render) is added, in which case you’ll hit the limits of your small network and NAS much faster. If you’re a five-man-band with 5-10 render nodes you hit the same limitations fairly quickly. When you grow to 10-15 people with more freelancers coming and going network performance hits its limit.

At this point servers and storage generally need to part ways. Companies with a NAS need to install a server to administer users and bring an element of security to their workflows, upgrading the NAS to a better one or if the pipeline and workflows have matured then moving to an enterprise scale storage solution might be the next decision. The same applies to the companies with a small server - they need to separate storage from servers so the two issues don’t affect each other, allowing for more complex infrastructures and pipelines to evolve.

All other areas of the business will evolve around the central infrastructure’s networking performance. Render farms, storage, and cloud workflows will all hang off the decisions made, each of which affects what your pipeline can and can’t do. Which affects your creativity and efficiency at dealing with larger jobs in smaller timescales.

It’s important to invest in your central storage infrastructure in the right way. To learn more about the different kinds of storage available you can read our Senior Engineer, Tim Harcourt’s blog post An Overview of Storage or contact me directly.

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