The gear you should get: Your own CD-RW drive, which with the proper software lets you "burn," or record, your own discs. You can make both CD-R (for "recordable") discs, which can be read but not overwritten, and CD-RW (for "rewritable") discs, which can be revised and reused.
The maven: Kevin Foster, president of Macquarium Intelligent Communications, in Atlanta, a 120-employee Web-solutions firm with clients such as UPS.
How he uses it: Everything that Macquarium does -- presentations, sales proposals, contracts, Web pages and sites, and completed projects -- gets stored on discs. "We want our clients to have a permanent copy for their archives, and we want a permanent copy for our archives," Foster says. His employees also burn discs for sharing work or taking it home or on the road.
Why he's a true believer: Foster calls CDs -- both the read-only and the rewritable kind -- the ultimate data-storage option. They hold plenty of data (650 to 750 megabytes compared with the 1MB to 2MB capacity of floppy discs). They're more durable and reliable than floppies, tapes, and other magnetic media, which can be easily damaged or erased. They're lightweight, making them inexpensive to transport and ship. And they're universal. Nearly every computer sold in recent years includes a CD drive, so most of Macquarium's clients can easily use discs from the company.
Favorite feature: "It's ridiculously cheap."
What it costs: CD-RW drives retail for less than $40 (for a slow-speed internal drive) to more than $200 (for fast, portable, and feature-packed external models). Macquarium equips every desktop and notebook computer with a CD burner for about $40 per machine. Purchased in bulk, CD-R discs cost about 30 cents to 50 cents each, and CD-RWs start at about 60 cents apiece.
The downside: The technology's greatest strength -- its portability -- is also its primary pitfall. "There's a certain security risk," Foster admits. "You can very quickly get large files onto a disc that looks like a music CD and then walk out of the office with it." For that reason, companies that handle highly sensitive data may want to consider other storage options.
Bottom line: The technology is so cheap, fast, and easy to use that, Foster says, "it allows you to concentrate on what you're going to put on the disc," rather than on the technology itself.
Mark L. Chambers, author of CD and DVD Recording for Dummies, agrees that CDs are a great business storage option but recommends keeping three things in mind as you shop for CD-RW drives.
First, understand the three-number code used to describe every CD-RW drive (for example, 40 x 12 x 48). In order, those numbers refer to the drive's CD-R recording speed, the CD-RW recording speed, and the read-only speed. Higher speed usually means higher cost.
Next, decide whether you want an internal or an external drive. Many external drives that connect to computers using USB 2.0 ports work as quickly as internal ones. They're portable -- the Targus Slim-Line, for instance, weighs less than a pound -- and several users can share a single device.
Finally, choose drives that are equipped with Sanyo's "BurnProof" technology, which eliminates the errors that used to ruin many discs.
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