The technology research firm IDC predicts that this year, there will be an additional 988 exabytes of data generated each year worldwide. An exabyte is one million million bytes or one billion gigabytes. To put it in more visual terms, 988 exabytes would be enough information to fill a stack of books that extends from the Sun to Pluto and back again. By comparison, in 2006, the world created 166 exabytes of new data -- enough to supply a stack of books from Earth to the Moon and back again one dozen times.

Bottom line: increased computing power and the synergy of the Internet has translated to exponential growth in newly generated data. All of this begs the question, where are we going to put it all?

Online data storage is all the rage right now. It's cheap and everyone from Google to Amazon is lining up to be a provider. However, many small to mid-sized businesses are opting to store their data the old-fashioned way: in-house.

'Whatever works for you. It's really about restoration. If the data is offsite, its going to take longer to restore,' says John Sloan, a senior research analyst from Info-Tech Research Group.

While Sloan cautions against backing up with tape drives, which may be too old-fashioned, there are wide variety of storage options that have matured right along with the mushrooming need for more space and easier access methods for retrieval.

  • Virtual tape library (VTL). With a VTL, businesses typically back up with discs to a disc array (a disc storage system with multiple disc drives). As an added benefit, since VTLs can backup disc to disc and then down to tape, they can fully integrate with older tape backup systems. A VTL is a relatively inexpensive system starting around $10,000 up to $30,000 for most small to midsize companies.
  • Optical jukebox. As the name would imply, this is a storage device with multiple slots for optical formats like CDs, DVDs, and even Blu-Ray. Discs are accessed robotically. Some jukeboxes can have as many as 2,000 slots. However, low end models may have as few as 30 slots for the entry level business. Prices start at around $5,000.
  • Storage area network (SAN). Until recently, this was considered affordable only at the enterprise level. However, pressures from the virtualization market have forced SANs to come down in price. A SAN is a network architecture that links any number of storage devices, including disc, tape, or optical jukeboxes.
  • Archive servers. This is ideal for older data that rarely needs to be accessed. It's a disc drive that only spins up when data is requested; otherwise it is in hibernation saving on energy costs. Prices vary, but archive servers are still considered to be on the pricey end for smaller organizations.

Rethinking tape

'There is a trend towards moving away from tape drives as your primary layer of backup. However in the case of a smaller company, there's always the advantage to take tapes off site,' says Sloan. In addition to portability, many organizations are still sticking with tape if not out of habit than as a redundancy with another backup method.

According to ESG Research, a third of all businesses still use tape as their sole backup method. More than 50 percent are using tape as a backup to backing up with discs.

What makes a good backup system

Certainly for the emerging business, cost is always the key driving factor in any business decision. However, business owners need to balance the cost of the backup system against the expense of when back up fails. 'Archiving is less about where to put data and more about getting it back when you need it,' says Andrew Reichman, a senior analyst from < a href= "">Forrester Research. Here are some of the features to shop for when considering a backup system:

  • Indexing. With the increasing pressures of compliance, this is likely the 'make or break' feature in selecting a system. How well easily can it search and retrieve a specific piece of information?
  • Speed. In the case of disaster recovery, few businesses can stay down for any length of time without severe consequences. How fast can a backup system be accessed?
  • Automatic backups. It goes without saying; most organizations lapse at regular backup schedules from time to time.
  • Redundancy systems.  What's backing up your back up system? Many organizations are opting for a combination of two systems, perhaps one offsite and one onsite, for example. Whether its disc to tape or VTL to SAN, two systems are always safer than one.

SIDEBAR: Budget off-the-shelf data storage products

Not all organizations can afford to sink $10,000 and up into a backup and restoration system.  Here are some entry level options to protect company data.

Cyberlink. Backup software packages start at $39.95 and include burning from stream to disc technology. Features include archiving, filtering, tagging data for easier access, and encryption.

Genie-Soft.  Backup Manager Pro 8.0 costs about $70 and works for the single user, as well as users on a network with access to multiple systems, such as tape, disc or even a SAN. Genie Backup Manager Server 8.0 costs $150 and functions as an all-in-one backup system for Windows servers.

Norton. Single user options start at $49.95 and scale up in price and sophistication to the 'Business Exec Family' packages depending on the size and needs of the organization. This is a system recovery solution for Windows-based networks.