The amount of electronic data piling up in agencies around the country is staggering. Document management, data warehousing, multimedia and the World Wide Web, combined with traditional transaction-driven applications, are causing storage to become one of the fastest-growing segments of the industry.

To meet the demand, solutions are coming out of the woodwork. There are more storage technologies than ever before for laptops, desktops, networks and the enterprise, and new ones are on the horizon. If you're wondering which ones will take us into the 21st century -- disk, tape, magnetic, optical -- actually, it will be all of them. Even tape, the oldest of them all, because tape libraries can store more bytes for the buck.

You'd have your head in the sand not to notice how cheap disk drives have become over the past couple of years, cramming more bits and tracks into the same space for even lower prices. There seems to be life left in those hard disks, at least for a few more years.

But combination magnetic/optical technologies from Terastor and Quinta show tremendous promise. There's also DVD-RAM -- a pure optical recording technology. Seemingly aimed at the desktop market with 2.6GB disks and access times like a CD, DVD-RAM could be a universal storage technology within the next five years. DVD-RAMs are just coming to market.

The next five years are going to be very interesting. There will no doubt be failures, but things have a tendency to stick in this biz. After all, they're still making open reel tapes! Here are the various storage trends and solutions.

Enterprise Storage Management

Enterprise storage is the collection of all online, nearline and offline disks and tapes within the organization. While online implies instantaneous access, nearline devices -- primarily tape and disk libraries -- take several seconds to a minute. Offline means on the shelf --either locally or offsite.

Enterprise storage management includes routine backup, archiving, disaster recovery and hierarchical storage management (HSM), which moves online data to nearline to offline. The year-2000 problem only adds to the burden, requiring copies of production databases in order to test real data.

Storage management is becoming critical, and one would wish for a virtual storage solution that could simply take all the data you hand it and automatically take care of all backup, mirroring and related tasks. We're not quite there yet, but we're heading in that direction.

Software solutions are becoming more integrated. For example, IBM's ADSTAR Distributed Storage Manager (ADSM) is a comprehensive storage management system that supports more than 30 platforms and offers integrated backup, disaster recovery and HSM.

The Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA), formed in 1997 and spearheaded by Strategic Research Corporation's Michael Peterson, is looking into the "missing glue." SNIA is researching the categories that should become standard protocols for performing fundamental storage tasks, so that hosts can talk to storage systems using a common language.

Hardware solutions are becoming increasingly intelligent, with more combinations of memory, disk and tape combined in one box. For example, IBM

introduced the virtual tape server, which caches tape files on disk, and CD-ROM servers are about to follow suit. By the end of the year, NSM Jukebox will release a CD-ROM file server with hard disks that cache frequently used data.

RAID

A redundant array of independent disks (RAID) is now commonplace for mission-critical data. There are various fault-tolerant configurations of RAID, but what it boils down to is that, if a drive fails, RAID rebuilds the lost data automatically. While big RAID boxes abound, Microarrays from Aiwa come in 5GB to 16GB capacities and plug into a single full-height drive bay, and that includes two or three drives. Appearing as a single SCSI drive to the server or