Effective Storage Strategies for SMB Workloads

Posted on by Melanie Purkis | Updated:
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If data is the lifeblood of your business, then storage technology is its circulatory system because it ensures that your critical business information is always secure and at your disposal in an instant. But with a vast range of storage options available, and newer technologies coming to market every year, it’s not always clear which storage options are the best ones for your business. This often leads to misalignment between your workloads and your storage solutions, which in turn can lead to budget overruns and/or unacceptable performance.

This challenge is especially hard for small and medium-sized businesses. Most of the content on storage strategies that’s available on the internet was developed by storage vendors (who have a vested in interest in a particular technology) and geared for large enterprises that can afford to invest in costly enterprise-scale technology. This can make it very challenging for your typical SMB to pick the best storage strategy for their workloads. Fortunately, we can help.

Storage Technology Circulatory System - Liquid Web


As a hosting provider with over a decade of experience deploying solutions to over 30,000 SMBs around the world, Liquid Web has collected a great deal of expertise and practical experience in cost-effectively leveraging storage technologies for our customers. Over the years we’ve developed an SMB storage reference architecture that’s vendor agnostic and has been highly effective in cost-effectively delivering optimal performance for most SMB workloads. Best of all, we have tested this architecture and successfully deployed it for thousands of our customers who have benefited from its reliability, performance, and price.

Our reference architecture consists of the following storage technologies:

  • Advanced Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) SSD drives
  • SATA SSD storage drives
  • Traditional SATA HDD storage drives

We’ll discuss each type of drive here shortly, but the key to the success of our reference architecture is in aligning each drive type to the three key storage requirements of every server, namely:

  • Operating system storage
  • Application data storage
  • Backup data storage

As we’ll soon see, each of the storage technologies I’ve listed is uniquely positioned to deliver the best price/performance for each of the key storage requirements of your servers. And by understanding where each it strongest and weakest, you can intelligently craft a storage architecture that is tailored to your workloads. Let’s begin by discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each storage option.

NVMe SSD Drives

NVMe SSD drives represent the pinnacle of SSD technology today. NVMe is a newer storage interface specification that delivers extremely fast I/O performance and effectively breaks through the I/O limitations of SATA-based SSD technology. So how much faster are NVMe SSD drives versus SATA SSD drives? In one benchmark, NVMe SATA outperformed SATA SSD by over 4x on IOPS and max sequential read/write rates. One limitation of NVMe, however, is that many motherboards and operating systems don’t support booting off of an NVMe drive.


SATA SSD drives are the workhorses of storage technology, delivering much faster performance than traditional disk-based hard drives. They are limited in terms of performance versus NVMe drives because they utilize the SATA interface specification, but this limitation is also a strength in terms of broad applicability. In other words, you can easily use a SATA SSD drive anywhere you can use a traditional disk-based hard drive. That doesn’t mean you should, however. As we’ll soon see, SATA SSD drives are most effectively utilized to deliver optimal price/performance for one important server storage requirement.

Traditional Disk-Based Storage

Traditional disk-based storage has been around for decades and benefits from one of the lowest costs per GB. They perform much slower than SSD drives, however, making them ideal for situations where you have large storage requirements, but don’t necessarily need blazing performance.

SMB Storage Reference Architecture

Our SMB storage reference architecture is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, it leverages each of the storage types that we’ve discussed to provide a range of options to help the typical SMB architect find the right storage solution for their workloads. The table below matches the various drive types to the various server storage requirements, providing valuable guidance on when to use which type of drive to address a specific storage requirement.

Liquid Web - SMB Storage Reference Architecture

Our reference architecture provides a great deal of flexibility to account for the need to match your workload to a specific price/performance target. Let’s run through a few examples to demonstrate how you can use this table to identify the optimal reference architecture for your specific workloads.

Mission-Critical Workloads

For our first example, let’s imagine that we’re working with an SMB that offers Software as a Service (SaaS) and they’re looking to host their mission-critical workload on a dedicated server. Furthermore, their SaaS application has high I/O requirements and because it’s their main revenue source, they’re willing to pay for optimal performance. The optimal reference architecture given these requirements is as follows:

  • SATA SSD for their operating system storage
  • NVMe SSD for their application data storage
  • Traditional HDD for their backups

This would be the costliest option but would ensure that their server would deliver the best I/O performance for their SaaS application and deliver the best experience to their users.

Backoffice Workloads

In our next example, let’s imagine that we’re working with an SMB that’s looking to host their email server, CRM system, and order entry system on a dedicated server. All three must deliver adequate performance for users but because they are not directly revenue generating, there is pressure to keep the costs reasonable. The optimal reference architecture given these requirements might look something like this:

  • SATA SSD for their operating system storage
  • SATA SSD for their application data storage
  • Traditional HDD for their backups

This configuration would offer reasonable performance at a lower cost than the previous example, making it the ideal compromise between performance and price.

Archival Workloads

In our last example, let’s imagine that we’re working with an SMB that must maintain an archival workload as part of a regulatory or contractual obligation. The workload is only used occasionally and requires large amounts of storage. The optimal reference architecture would look something like this:

  • Traditional HDD for their operating system storage
  • Traditional HDD for their application data storage
  • Traditional HDD for their backups

This reference architecture would deliver the minimum storage performance requirements for this workload but would be a very cost-effective and scalable solution as the storage requirements of the workload grow over time.

A storage strategy centered on delivering optimal price/performance tailored to your specific workloads is the ideal strategy for any business and requires a flexible storage reference architecture. Now that we’ve shared ours with you, we hope that you find it useful in helping to map out the best storage strategy for your business workloads.

By the way, if you have any questions about our SMB storage reference architecture or would like Liquid Web’s help in deploying high performance, cost-effective infrastructure to power your small business, please feel free to contact us. Our team of infrastructure experts is standing by and happy to help.

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About the Author

Melanie Purkis

Melanie Purkis is the Director of Liquid Web's Managed Hosting Products & Services. Melanie has more than 25 years of experience with professional leadership, project management, process development, and technical support experience in the IT industry.

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