Data storage is hardly the sexiest subject in technology. But it may be the most important. A data catastrophe--a debilitating virus, a failed server--can be devastating to any business, especially a small one. Traditionally, companies have used tape backup to handle data. Tape is still the cheapest way to go, but it is hard to manage and often ends up stored in a warehouse someplace, making retrieval a long and laborious process. Perhaps that explains why 38 percent of small companies do not have a data backup policy in place, according to IDC, a market-research firm. Backing up your data is a chore, but an array of new tools make it easier than before.
Best for… Protecting your e-mail
What it is: Software to archive and organize electronic mail.
What's cool: The software, which can be loaded onto your servers or accessed via the Web, is compatible with nearly every e-mail system, operating system, and database. Using e-mail compression techniques, like eliminating duplicate information, it can reduce storage needs by 75 percent.
Drawbacks: Lighthouse is hardly what you'd call plug-and-play. You need to manage it to make it work--which could be difficult for companies without an IT staff.
Price: Lighthouse's Lite version archives 50 mailboxes for $1,800. Or Lighthouse will host your data for about $10 per employee per month, plus $1.25 to $1.50 per gigabyte per month.
Best for… Giving your current system a boost
What it is: A common data-storage problem is that one department's server might have a full hard disk while servers for other divisions have plenty of room. SAN/iQ software lets businesses take all the hard disk space on their servers and create more space for the entire network.
What's cool: It takes as little as an hour to get up and running, especially rapid for storage-management software, which is notoriously difficult to set up.
Drawbacks: Companies with fewer than six servers might find this technology is overkill. It also requires technical skills that many companies may not have in-house.
Price: A single node that supports up to 1 terabyte of data starts at $11,795.
Best for… One-stop storage
What it is: Storage hardware and software that attaches to your network.
What's cool: While many storage systems are optimized for one kind of data or another, the StoreVault S500 handles pretty much anything thrown at it, which makes it attractive for any business that uses different systems (say, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Linux, and Windows).
Drawbacks: This box could be too much for businesses with only one location. You'll have to buy a tape drive if you want to make archival tapes. For continuous data protection, you'll need to add another piece of software.
Best for… The single office
What it is: A standalone storage box that gives companies with a single location a simple way to store files and data without paying extra for network management.
What's cool: An automatic backup system means you don't have to worry about employees forgetting to back up. It can be set to limit access both for individual users and groups of users.
Drawbacks: It does not include a kind of hard disk management technology called RAID, which creates at least two copies of your data on different hard disks in the same box. RAID is handy because it creates an automatic backup system within your storage device, so that when a hard disk fails, its copy kicks in.
Price: $230 for the 250 gigabyte version, up to $750 for a 750 gigabyte version
Best for… Quick retrieval
What it is: Software and hardware to boost the performance of a standard tape backup system.
What's cool: Magnetic tape is cheap and easy to store. But finding specific data on tape is a pain. And many organizations store tapes off-site, which slows down retrieval times. FalconStor supplements a tape system with a hard drive so retrieval is fast and you always know where your data is.
Drawbacks: The main obstacle is cost: Virtual tape libraries are not cheap, and you'll also need to pay somebody who knows how to make them work--either on your staff or at a reseller.
Price: Prices start at $18,000 for software and 18 terabytes of hard-drive space.
Best for… Recovering from a disaster
What it is: A kind of bank vault for your data. IoSafe is a disaster-proof box of hard drives that you park in a closet somewhere and connect to your network.
What's cool: The DRN-R4 can survive a 30-foot drop onto rubble or an hour in a 1,700-degree fire. After a disaster, you can get your system back up fast, compared with several days from a remote location or data-hosting service. The product works with most storage software. It also can be locked onto a standard server rack so no one can swipe it.
Drawbacks: Nothing is completely disaster-proof. If your office is in an office building that collapses, you have no guarantee that your data will survive the fall, even if the box does.
Price: $11,600 for 500 gigabytes of capacity, up to $14,900 for 3 terabytes of capacity. Price includes three-year disaster recovery protection plan.