Is it lights out for optical?


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Paul Meyhoefer, the director of sales and marketing for Pioneer USA, Long Beach, CA, doesn't have Blu-ray on his enterprise roadmap yet. "The reason DVD-R is where it is today--both in media costs and in drive pricing and capabilities--is because it was driven by the consumer market," says Meyhoefer. "And if I look at Blu-ray, it's not going to be really driven by the consumer market." Without those economies of scale to drive down the cost of components, Meyhoefer believes the price of Blu-ray will stay high for some time.

Meyhoefer's assertion contradicts common wisdom, which suggests Blu-ray's 27GB capacity is being driven by demand among high-end consumers to fit an entire HDTV movie on a single disc. Blu-ray discs will have the room for that, says Meyhoefer, but don't expect to see a Blu-ray HDTV player in Circuit City anytime soon.

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How ultra-dense optical compares

Ultra-dense optical disks can store more data by creating smaller pits. That's done in two ways: by using shorter wavelength light and focusing it in a smaller beam than either CD or DVD allows. The numerical aperture number is related to the size of the spot the beam can create--the larger the number, the smaller the spot--and therefore, the more densely data can be packed.

Seeing the light
The resistance to optical in the enterprise seems to be growing, rather than diminishing. JVC national sales manager Doug Arnold, who sells both DVD-R and DVD-RAM jukeboxes, puts it bluntly: "Unfortunately, tape and RAID really have a stranglehold on the enterprise space."

The pace of change in magnetic solutions, even tape, makes optical seem pale by comparison. "Tape is going to 400GB in a year or so," notes Gartner's Mary Craig. "To speed up and have a better appearance of performance, they'll use a RAID front end." In addition, sophisticated tape management systems offered by vendors as StorageTek are improving not only the efficiency of backup, but also the reliability of data recovery.

Bryan Bruton, CTO and founder of online archiving service Scan-Direct Inc., Carrollton, TX, employs optical primarily for clients bound by regulatory requirements. But Bruton uses optical only when he has to, partly because the cost of IDE RAID has already fallen close to that of his DVD-R storage--$7,200 per TB vs. $5,800 per TB. Figure in the added labor to maintain DVD-R, says Bruton, and the delta is more like $500. In a year, he expects it to be a wash. Moreover, his Pioneer DVM-7000 jukeboxes take up roughly three times the physical space per TB as the latest RAID systems.

Optical is a prime example of fascinating technology that doesn't necessarily yield the best solution. As Bruton says, "If you've got to have something non-modifiable, optical is the only choice out there." But for almost any other application, magnetic trumps optical every time--and given ever-increasing hard disk and tape capacities, that dominance isn't likely to change anytime soon, despite advances in optical technology. When asked what would make optical more attractive to him, Bruton quickly replies: "They need to bring the price down."

This was first published in March 2003

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