Optical Storage Aims for Enterprise Acceptance

Optical storage has been around for a quarter of a century and
has its loyal users, but it seems to have landed in a small, niche
market. However, with the introduction of professional blue-laser
high capacity optical storage (HCO), that may be starting to change
because companies are now being offered better pricing and more
capabilities. So is optical on its way to the storage
mainstream?

According to the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA),
the ongoing development of optical technology has opened up new
possibilities. Migration software now allows unused data to be
moved from its initial location to an optical device, where it
resides until it is needed. Since the only thing that touches the
media is the laser, proponents of this storage method say it is the
most durable way to store and archive data. The folks at OSTA say
optical storage is no longer a niche market, since optical storage
solutions are also used in a wide variety of applications such as
document imaging, records retention, backup systems, desktop
publishing and CAD/CAM.

Some analysts and industry experts believe that companies with
requirements for write once, read many (WORM) storage and who need
long term (10 to 15 year) storage without migrating data should
consider HCO as an alternative to disk or tape archival
storage.

“HCO promises much longer shelf life, although companies will
have to migrate what they have to HCO once and then just maintain
drive systems to read them,” said Ed Walker, vice president of
Call/Recall, which develops high-performance, terabyte-class
optical storage systems.

Jonathan Buckley, vice president of marketing at PowerFile,
which specializes in archiving appliances for permanent storage of
digital content and assets, said there is a rapidly emerging need
for an “archival tier of storage” within large storage enterprises,
which consists of data assets which have a minimum useful life of
15 or more years.

“Over these time periods, magnetic-based storage systems, which
are designed for speed rather than longevity, demand relatively
high maintenance, which translates into cost and risk,” said
Buckley. “It is the avoidance of cost and risk over the archival
period which makes the new optical-based storage systems so
appealing.”

So should companies that have capacity requirements of up to
60GB in a single drive (38TB in a single optical library) and media
retention requirements of up to 15 years without migration consider
HCO as an alternative to disk or tape?

Although some industry experts say the answer is yes, Buckley
said customer storage volume size requirement is irrelevant in
driving new optical considerations because longevity and permanence
of data are the most important attributes.

The reason for this, he said, is that properly devised
enterprise storage systems transcend the physical limitation of
“the platter” by pooling (or virtualizing) the underlying optical
disc or magnetic disk drives.

“I do not believe that there is a disk, tape or optical company
in the market today that can’t provide a single volume of at least
60GB or a set of volumes totaling 38TB,” said Buckley.

“The exception to this consideration of volume size is if the
customer is looking to burn disc and remove the data offline,” he
said. “In this case, it is important for the full data set to be on
a particular disc.”

However, he said this is not an enterprise solution — but
rather a small business solution. “I have found that enterprises
simply do not have the personal time or the propensity for risk
involved with burning and replenishing media,” he said.

Walker said HCO promises a much longer shelf life. “In fact, our
optical storage media has been in our lab now and at government
sites for about 15 years with no degradation,” he said.

Another issue facing optical storage is the fact that many
vendors have discontinued CD/DVD libraries because of reliability
issues with consumer-grade commodity drives, and companies
considering HCO want to know if it is any better.

“Perhaps, but only time will tell,” said Walker. “I believe that
the HCO systems should have stricter tolerances to ensure more
continuous smooth operation.”

CD/DVD libraries, without the advantage of any system-level
error-correction, have been proven to be too unreliable for the
enterprise, said Buckley. “The very same is true for Serial ATA
(
SATA
) drives, which we now know can be made enterprise-ready
through the employment of system-level software techniques upon
which companies such as Network Appliance are built.”

Buckley believes that past experience with CD and DVD storage in
the enterprise market has led to the continued relative decline of
optical storage. “It makes it that much harder to have companies
now take a second look, but they are starting to do so due to the
growing pain of archive,” he said.

Meeting Regulatory Requirements

As versatile as optical storage is, another issue facing
companies is whether or not optical storage is appropriate for
organizations that have significant long-term regulatory
requirements.

Walker said optical’s shelf life, growing capacity and low costs
make it a great solution for archiving.

But Buckley said that for companies looking to store regulatory
liabilities — that is, data that they are required to keep
for a period of time — putting that data on a permanent
storage platform could pose a problem because the data cannot be
readily deleted at the end of the compliance period.
“Compliance-driven data tends to be relatively small in total bulk,
and therefore the cost advantages of HCO may actually be eroded by
the added risk that the company endures by maintaining it past its
required time,” he said.

In a small and mid-size business survey last year, Gartner found
that 34 percent of worldwide respondents indicated that they are
using optical storage for on-site archiving, and another 19 percent
were considering using it. Granted, the survey was focused on the
SMB market, and it did not differentiate between various optical
storage technologies (CD, DVD or professional HCO), but it did
indicate that there is a user base that finds high-capacity optical
storage very attractive.

Many industry experts believe that optical storage, when
compared with other random access removable media storage
solutions, is a growing alternative because it has the highest
capacity available, the lowest cost per megabyte, the longest
archive life of any media, the widest environmental condition
tolerance, and the only technology that scales from laptops to
enterprise solutions.

Still, the technology has a number of obstacles to overcome, and
the biggest just might be its reputation as a consumer-oriented
technology not suited for enterprises. But a new generation of
optical technologies aims to change that perception.

Article courtesy of Enterprise Storage Forum

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