A battle brews between blue-laser optical disk and tape

Enterprises are letting consumers show the way

Makers of new blue laser optical disk technology said this week that they have their sights firmly set on enterprise archiving applications currently handled by magnetic tape and even some nearline disk storage arrays.

But those same vendors are quick to admit that consumers must first warm up to the higher-capacity DVD formats before enterprises will accept them as products with enough longevity for their infrastructures.

Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc. told Computerworld yesterday that it plans to release its first Blu-ray Disk in three weeks, Sony Corp. plans to ship its media by the end of this month, and Dell Inc. plans to launch its first Blu-ray-compatible desktop computer by midyear. A Dell laptop version is planned in the third quarter, the company said.

Pioneer’s Blu-ray DVD disk drive will sell for $995 for a single platter disk with 25GB capacity. Dell did not disclose a price for its drive.

Sony Europe’s Recording Media and Energy division announced yesterday that its first Blu-ray Disk media will ship in Europe this month. The single-layer BD-RE (Blu-ray Disc Rewritable) media will be available next week and single-layer write-once BD-R (Blu-ray Disc Recordable) media will be available in April. Sony will launch dual-layer discs later this year. The single-layer BD-R and BD-RE discs offer a storage capacity of 25GB.

The new-generation media support 2X speed, which equates to a data transfer rate of 72Mbit/sec., making the discs suitable for video recording as well as data storage and file backup.

Toshiba Corp. also said yesterday that it is planning to launch its first laptop computer with an HD-DVD drive in Europe next month (See "Toshiba plans HD-DVD laptop for April").

HD-DVD and Blu-ray are two formats vying to replace current DVDs for high-definition content such as movies. Today’s DVDs can hold about 4.7GB of data, while Blu-ray Disk has a capacity of 25GB and HD-DVD can hold 15GB.

Like magnetic tape, optical disks can be removed and stored for decades. However, optical disk capacities don’t come close to approaching native tape drive capacities of up to 500GB. But with optical disks, searches can be performed at random at subsecond speeds, which is one reason vendors are pitching their optical disk technologies as competitors to tape.

Hertfordshire, England-based Plasmon PLC this week released a blue laser optical disk format as part a new product line that includes an archival appliance that scales from 960GB to 19TB of capacity. The format, called ultra density optical (UDO), offers 30GB capacity per platter. A top-end 19TB Plasmon UDO Archive Appliance sells for $149,100. Each new disk cartridge costs $60 retail.

Plasmon chief strategy officer Mike Koclanes said the company plans to release a 60GB version of the optical disk in 2007, followed by 120GB and 240GB versions in 2009 and 2011, respectively.

"If you want to go to individual records for restores, you don’t want to have to go to tape. We’re nearline accessible," Koclanes said.

Brian Zucker, technology strategist in the office of the chief technology officer at Dell, said his company chose to side with the Blu-ray format because of its larger capacity and the fact that it’s backed by more vendors.

"In general, we see a need for [Blu-ray optical disks] in the consumer space for high-definition content. The movie play is certainly there," Zucker said. "Then we’ll see it as a way to archive data. First in the small office or home office, then eventually in corporations."

Andy Parsons, senior vice president of product development at Pioneer Electronics in Long Beach, Calif., said his company’s upcoming product is aimed squarely at the consumer market, where it needs to find adoption before enterprises will ever consider it as a viable long-term storage format.

"I think it’s more appealing if it’s consumer first and the enterprise second. If it’s broadly accepted, then enterprises will have the assurance that it’s not a vertical format that will go away," Parsons said.

Parsons sees a time a little more than a year from now when enterprises will begin adopting optical disk for long-term off site data storage and for use in optical jukeboxes, where it can be accessed quickly and where it is more dependable than hard disk drives for certain applications.

"Say you have a nearline [disk drive] system that fails. What do you do? The huge pitch for the DVD side is that you can grab an optical disk out of the jukebox, take it to a computer with a Blu-ray drive and get access to your data," he said, adding that current DVD jukeboxes will need little modification to accept the Blu-ray format disks.

"Clearly it won’t be long before people start coming out with products, but it’s a question of when the [enterprise] IT side starts seeing this technology as smart buy," Parsons said.

Information from MacWorld was included in this story.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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