By Rebecca Morelle
The data we generate is increasing at an inexorable rate.
The buzzing server room may soon be a thing of the past
Some estimate it is growing between 50 and 100% every year.
And as we create file upon file, technology is racing to stay ahead to make sure we have places where we can safely keep this mass of information.
Data storage is big business, and last week companies gathered at Kensington Olympia to show off their wares at the Storage Expo.
Adrian Groeneveld, senior product marketing manager at Pillar Data Systems, said: "We have more data growth, driven by more and more applications.
"We have to keep this data longer, we have to treat it differently, we have to archive it, we have to be able to get it back, we have to be able to put more stringent regulations around protecting it, backing it up, and so forth."
And as storage technology advances, for users the cost per gigabyte is plummeting.
Ten years ago, storing one gigabyte of data on a hard drive would have cost about £100, five years ago the price fell to about £50, and today it stands at £1.
Staffing stands packed with softly humming storage boxes, technology experts discussed the latest advances that could tackle this growing data tide while meeting the mounting needs of the end user.
A plethora of servers, tiered systems, archive software, recovery technology, data encryption devices, high-capacity discs were showcased, revealing just how far the field has come in the last few decades.
But, according to John Abbott, chief analyst at The 451 Group, a new technology could be just around the corner.
"I think the web is changing the storage industry. People are now used to the idea that they can get all of their stuff from one pane of glass.
"A company like Google has been building up all of these servers, which are storing all of this information so you can search it. And this has made a huge difference to the perception of storage, so the rest of the industry is catching up with that.
"And this is where I think storage is going. I think big data centres are going to start building up."
Security is key
And these central data systems would allow individuals and companies, both small and large, to outsource their storage needs to somebody else, allowing them to dip in and out to find and store the data we need.
Nick Laurence, enterprise marketing manager for Dell, agreed: "I would guess that soon we will have virtual storage. So you will store your files virtually on a central storage system, so no matter what PC you are using around the world, you will be able to get to all of your files and data."
Google's storage success is a driver for the storage industry
For such a system, security would obviously be key. For example, a person should only be able to access their own files, and not, say the account details saved by a bank also using the storage centre.
This week, BT announced users could now store their data in the company's "digital vault" taking consumers a step closer to online storage. Two gigabytes of storage are offered for free, while 20GB costs £4.99 a month.
Other net companies offer a variety of storage deals - for very different prices. Some, such as Carbonite have a flat monthly fee for unlimited space but among others, including Ibackup, Xdrive and Godaddy, 5GB of storage costs between nothing and up to about £5 a month.
And many of the large information management companies, such as EMC, HP and IBM, are offering storage on demand for larger businesses.
But Nigel Ghent, marketing director of EMC, said he thought it might take a few years for central storage to become commonplace.
He said: "In terms of being able to buy storage capacity on demand going mainstream at the consumer level, I think it will take about five to 10 years."
So could hard drives become a piece of office history?
Manfred Berger, head of product strategy for Europe at Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, thinks not.
He believes local storage will remain important - for, for example, simply holding the information to run computers or temporarily storing web data.
He adds that manufacturers are not worried about the latest trends in storage.
"As hard drive manufacturers, we are not concerned about who is buying, as long as the market is growing - and even if we move to centralised storage systems somebody will need to manufacture them."