Optical storage is more than a hard drive

Optical storage is one of the finest storage solutions ever developed and is superb for protecting important data. We thought we had better say that at the outset because you might get the feeling we are out to trash the technology in a few minutes.

Hard drives have a basic set of specifications

and firms like Hitachi, Western Digital, Seagate and others simply focus on producing the spinning jewels. They knock out tiny ones, ultra fast units, huge capacity drives. They are put into your camera, your car, your PC (obviously), your music pod, your TV recorder and darn near every information and entertainment device you can think of.

Super creative people keep figuring out how to pack more data in a smaller space, make them more rugged, advancing their read/write speed and making them cheaper and cheaper.

To us solution providers a hard drive…is a hard drive…is a hard drive.

Not so with optical !!

We had MO, we have CD, we have DVD (+/-R, RW, RAM, DL). Now we have whole new set of acronym technologies jockeying for our attention.

We start with a singular writing/reading technology — blue laser. But immediately we have two paths — consumer applications and business applications. These paths divide into two additional paths — Blu-Ray and HD DVD or AOD (advanced optical disc) and UDO (ultra density optical) and Professional Disc for Data respectively.

But at the end of the day they are all big data bit buckets designed to store mega-, giga-, tera-, peta- and beyondbytes of data.

The big picture

According to some industry analysts 40 per cent of the computer-oriented spending is in storage. This doesn’t even take into account all of the CE devices that have storage designed in.

Storage solutions — HD or optical based — don’t exist in a horizontal or vertical scaleable plane. End user priorities and requirements are three-dimensional. There are market niches, applications and a relative importance attached to each of the requirements the end user has for his/her data storage. These factors are much more important than a specific storage technology.

As the mountains of content and data increase exponentially (just considering images in people have to make important decisions on how to store and access the information. It isn’t a decision that people can afford to take lightly.

Optical belongs in the picture

Over the years optical technology has proven its value as a random-access writable technology.

Due in some small part to the fact that almost every PC shipped today has a CD-RW burner installed; 700MB CD-R media sales have remained strong even as DVD+/-R has gained interest. Last year 7,150 million discs were sold according to Magnetic Media Information Services (MMIS) compared to only 375 million DVDR discs. While DVDR shipments will more than double this year, CD-R sales will only increase about 10 per cent.

The technology will remain relevant through 2010 because:

it is ubiquitous

as with hard drives people only have to think about one technology – CD

storage is reliable and can be played virtually everywhere

media costs almost nothing

the ability to store 60,000 documents, 2,500 images, 80 minutes of audio and about 20 minutes of quality video is sufficient for day-to-day applications

Despite its stumbling start and two factions, DVDR is making rapid progress. Burner and player manufacturers simply chose to provide both +/-R write/read capabilities so they could focus on selling product rather than participate in turf wars. By the end of the year very inexpensive internal burners will be able to write 4.7GB discs at 16x. At the same time economic burners will be available that can write 8.5GB double layer discs.

Both media will be playable in the vast majority of drives, players and libraries. The 4.7GB disc stores as many as:

5,200 full-colored digital pictures (640×480, 24 bit/pixel)

230 minutes of MPEG2 compressed DSS satellite quality video (at 3Mbps)

150 minutes of MPEG2 compressed theatrical quality video

more than eight hours of CD quality audio (44.1kHz, 16bit)

eight 4-drawer filing cabinets of documents.

No matter what kind of a pack rat you are…that is a lot of storage!


Next generation?

Widely acclaimed and acknowledged as the most rapidly accepted consumer technology, recordable DVD could still have tremendous growth potential. The technology is just beginning to gain acceptance in at home and in the office. It would seem we have only just scratched the surface.

Based on advances that have been made in the engineering labs of the technology leaders there are still performance, capacity and price improvements that could be productized and delivered to us.

Rather than focusing on capturing more of the total storage market (wrenching applications away from hard drive – and lowly tape – technology), optical technologists seem bent on segmenting the market rather than broadening its appeal and sales.

While it is broadly agreed that the next generation will require the use of blue laser technology, firms have “identified” two separate roads — consumer and business applications. The roads had barely been surveyed when two different construction crews started their work.

The technology crews working on the consumer path cited the need for high definition video storage as their killer application. The opposing voices here — Blu-Ray and AOD — are working rapidly to provide people with solutions that will enable them to store 133 minutes of HDTV on a single disc. AOD is focusing on keeping media similar to DVD so media manufacturers can transition to the production of the next generation media. Supported by 10 of the leading consumer electronics equipment manufactures, Blu-Ray already has a roadmap to double the capacity of their discs using dual layer technology.

Distinct options

Taken on their individual merits, each technology has its individual merits. But will they win the hearts and pocketbooks of customers?

PC prices dropped because the notebook and desktop computer can be used at the or at home and for any audio, video, document or data application. The hard drive has become cheaper because it is used in these systems and a growing number of other products around the home as well as in increasingly higher capacity business storage solutions.

By the same token, CD and DVD burner sales increased because the units could be used across the storage spectrum. These discs don’t care if they are written at a Fortune 1000 firm or on your home DVR, they can be read up and down the country and global user pyramid.

None of the “next generation” optical replacements have decisive customer benefits.

The Japanese, European or Americas consumer markets are only beginning to take advantage of today’s current DVD video quality. The ROW (rest of world) is heavily into the use of CD because of the extremely low cost. There is a huge question mark as to when your movie and video entertainment will be high def. Do you really want or need weeks of audio storage on a single disc?

Perhaps it is time for “the industry” to focus on the consumer and our wants and needs rather than on technology and intellectual property royalties!

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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