Is the time right for optical storage?


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Sometimes the stars and the planets in the technology universe align, and technology and user needs magically mesh. Optical storage, a technology that has spent a decade or more orbiting the far periphery of enterprise storage, is becoming more widely adopted. Higher capacities, improved performance and a more competitive price per gigabyte are propelling optical into more mainstream storage applications.

Optical has enjoyed modest success for specific archival tasks, particularly in the financial and healthcare industries where a physical write once, read many (WORM) record is required, but it remains a more expensive solution than tape. Although the lowest cost magnetic disk today remains more expensive than optical on the basis of the cost of the total storage system (hardware and software), prices for magnetic disk storage continue to drop (see Optical storage economics, this page). "There is a lot of price pressure from disk systems," says Wolfgang Schlichting, research director, removable storage at IDC, Framingham, MA.

Two recent developments are pressuring enterprise storage managers to look for the kind of long-term archival storage that optical provides. First, various regulatory mandates are forcing organizations to store more data and more types of data for longer periods, and to ensure that the data hasn't been altered. In addition, the data must be quickly accessible to auditors, regulators and lawyers. The second issue is the increasing recognition

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of the value of content. Rich media, such as graphics and images, needs to be preserved for the long term, yet remain easily accessible.

"Optical is getting much more attention than it got a few years ago. People are taking a second look because of mandates like Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA and Basel 2," says Schlichting. He expects that attention to translate into many more optical storage implementations. From 300 optical libraries sold in 2004 (5.25-inch magneto optical [MO] or Ultra Density Optical [UDO] format), IDC expects 5,000 libraries to be sold by 2008.

Plasmon, Englewood, CO, is the primary provider of UDO, which increases capacities by using an extremely focused blue laser to write and read data. "IT never purchased optical. Optical storage was always part of scanning and archives, and used for things like check images," says Dave DuPont, Plasmon's vice president of marketing. But the new demand for enterprise archival storage, combined with the more attractive economics of the latest optical technology, makes optical storage a viable alternative to tape at the low end and to inexpensive disk (ATA/SATA) at the high end.

Optical storage economics

This was first published in June 2005

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