Best product of 2003, my predictions for 2004 In poring over\u00a0the year\u2019s columns, three major themes surfaced:\u00a0back-up and data protection, all-in-one server appliances and storage tools. Here we highlight the best products we tested in each category and predict what 2004 will bring.\u00a0The year\u2019s best back-up tool \u2014 and most innovative product \u2014 is\u00a0IntraDyn\u2019s RocketVault: The first product to automatically back up clients and servers and send specified data offsite. The shoebox-sized device sits anywhere on the network and backs up any disk volume networked as a Windows shared volume. The basic unit includes 240G bytes of local storage at a price small and midsize businesses can afford: $1,495.RocketVault creates a new category in backup products. Existing tape systems are cheaper, but not automatic. Existing back-up client software for sending files automatically to your server is cheap, but doesn't offer offsite storage. RocketVault combines the speed and capacity of disk-based backup with the secure offsite storage option of tape.Prediction: We\u2019ll see new back-up tools in 2004, but RocketVault will be tough to beat.A new crop of all-in-one servers came to market this year. Unlike in the past, these all worked mostly as advertised. The one with the best set of features and management tools we tested was the\u00a0Toshiba Magnia 30. Yes, it\u2019s best, but not by a huge margin \u2014 others could catch up. Since Toshiba offers a range of servers starting well under $1,000, you\u2019ll find the one that meets your needs and budget.Prediction: All-in-one appliances will continue to improve; products will continue to multiply.If you prefer to use\u00a0Microsoft\u00a0server software \u2014 along with Exchange e-mail services and other Windows-centric back-end utilities \u2014 you\u2019ll love the new\u00a0Small Business Server 2003, a substantial improvement from SBS 2000. There are more features and flexibility, and administration is geared at nontechnical people. The price is geared toward small businesses, too; the basic version costs only $599 (retail) for five users.Prediction: Microsoft and\u00a0Novell small business products will lose ground in 2004 to all-in-one appliances.Like time, you always need more storage. This year network-attached storage (NAS) systems dropped so low in price that vendors have begun adding them to other types of equipment. One of the most innovative products we tested was the\u00a0Tritton ASAP, a combination 120G-byte NAS and cable\/DSL router\/firewall. It works easily and cleanly, and the box includes a surprising amount of configuration control for the firewall.Good NAS products have been around for years. One of the earliest vendors, Snap Appliance, has moved into higher end products. But at about $600, the\u00a0Snap Server1100 we tested still provides good value in a small, quiet housing. If you want an extra print server, the Linksys EFG-80 NAS (about $500) we tested includes one. (See editorial link below for the original column.)Prediction: Dollar-per-gigabyte NAS units will corner the market.What else do I see for 2004? An improving market will convince you to expand, but warily, so value remains key. Cheaper PCs will continue to get better, and Linux desktop software from a group including Sun, Xandros, SuSE, Red Hat, Mandrake, and Lindows will become the functional equivalent of Windows and Office on the desktop. More appliances will spread intelligence around the network. And we\u2019ll continue to show you smart ways to back up your data.