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Storage Is A Many Splendored Thing

From time to time we all may be guilty of a single-minded devotion to one or another storage format – be it DVD-RAM, CD-R, hard disk, tape or whatever. Such was the message underlying the 1999 Technology and Manufacturing Conference of the International Recording Media Association (IRMA), held in Scottsdale, AZ – that we shouldn’t be promoting the total superiority of one technology over another, but rather, determining which technologies are best suited to each individual application.


Storage Is A Many Splendored Thing

Hugh Bennett
Tape/Disc Business, December 1999

From time to time we all may be guilty of a single-minded devotion to one or another storage format – be it DVD-RAM, CD-R, hard disk, tape or whatever. Such was the message underlying the 1999 Technology and Manufacturing Conference of the International Recording Media Association (IRMA), held in Scottsdale, AZ – that we shouldn’t be promoting the total superiority of one technology over another, but rather, determining which technologies are best suited to each individual application.

Although much of the material covered was a rehash from the ODS and REPLItech N.A. conference held earlier this year, it still was refreshing to hear the variety of industry perspectives. Rather than just the predictable DVD hype, we heard about the range of options other than optical media, including magnetic and sold state/flash memory.

Hard Disk Drives
The one technology which continues to amaze for its seemingly endless stream of advances in increased capacity, lower price and diminishing physical size, is the venerable magnetic hard disk drive. Some recent jaw-droppers include IBM’s 73 GB Ultrastar 72ZX contrasted against the 340 MB microdrive which is roughly the size of a matchbox and weighs but 16 grams.

Hard disk drives are best positioned to fill the emerging need of consumer set-top audio and video devices for huge capacity and high performance digital storage. For example, home digital TV recorders such as ReplayTV and TiVo use hard disk drives to store up to 20 hours of programming.

Another consumer application for which hard disk drives seem ideally suited is the new generation of digital home audio servers or “media storage systems” like Lydstrom’s SongBank. These stereo components can be loaded with thousands of songs from compact disc or Internet connections while automatically cataloging each track for easy retrieval for on demand playback.

But even though hard disk drives may best fill the unique demands of these applications, they are not the best answer in all situations since they still suffer the inherent limitations of magnetic media, lack the ability to archive programs, play prerecorded content or interchange material with other set-top devices. For those sorts of requirements, optical technologies such as DVD, CD and CD-R should compliment hard disk drives. The potential value of hybrid devices combining multiple technologies is surely obvious.

Solid State Flash Memory
A versatile semiconductor technology, flash memory offers non-volatile storage, low power consumption, reasonable capacity and rugged construction. A few successful implementations deserving attention are Sony’s Memory Stick, Intel’s StrataFlash and SanDisk’s CompactFlash.

Flash storage media today is typically no larger than a matchbook while offering up to 100 MB of storage space. Even though more expensive than some technologies, it’s far superior for use in applications such as digital cameras, palmtop computers, autoPCs, Dictaphones, set-top game systems and portable digital music players. For example, even though an IBM microdrive hard disk drive may be compact enough for use in those devices, its relatively high power consumption makes it impractical for small battery operation.

Magnetic And Optical Tape
Tape is perhaps the most defiant of all storage formats as evidenced by some of the more recent additions to the tape world, including Super Digital Linear Tape (SuperDLT), Advanced Intelligent Tape (AIT), Linear Tape Open (LTO), Advanced Digital Recording (ADR), Mammoth-2 (M2), Digital Data Storage-4 (DDS-4), and Variable Speed Architecture (VXA) to name but a few.

Although DVD-RAM and other optical storage technologies continue to capture attention as low-end backup solutions, the expansion of the Internet and enterprise computing are driving the need for systems capable of accepting the demands of mid-sized servers. Only higher-end magnetic tape products offer the enormous capacity and data transfer rates necessary to satisfy this Automated Backup and Restore (AB&R) marketplace.

The fact is, magnetic tape has no equal with media capacities from tens to hundreds of Gigabytes and data transfer rates in the tens of megabytes per second. And for even larger storage applications, optical and tape are expected to fuse together by the end of the year 2000 with OTR technology. Utilizing an optically recorded and read phase change layer on top of a standard polyethylene terephthalate (PET) tape substrate ORT systems promises staggering capacities in the order of one Terabyte per cartridge, Petabyte libraries and up to 160 MB/sec data transfer rates. Mind boggling, isn’t it?

It’s important to keep an open mind when thinking about storage. While visions of a single dominant technology may be heartwarming, they aren’t going to happen in a diverse marketplace that will inevitably need to be served by a multiplicity of formats.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hugh Bennett, editor-in-chief of Hugh’s News, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems, a reseller, systems integrator and industry consultant based in London, Ontario, Canada. Hugh is author of The Authoritative Blu-ray Disc (BD) FAQ and The Authoritative HD DVD FAQ, available on Hugh’s News, as well as Understanding Recordable & Rewritable DVD and Understanding CD-R & CD-RW, published by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA).

Copyright © 1999 Knowledge Industry Publications / Hugh Bennett

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