Will Archives Ever Go Optical?

Arthur Cole

Conventional wisdom has it that solid-state disks (SSDs) will come to dominate Tier 1 and possibly Tier 2 storage, with conventional disk and tape media taking on a less active role. That view might have to make room for optical disks, however, as a number of new developments could finally turn the little platters into viable enterprise solutions.

The kickoff happened late last month when GE announced a breakthrough in holographic storage technology that it says can boost the capacity of a single DVD-sized disk up to 500 GB, about 100 times that of a standard DVD today and 20 times more than a Blu-ray disk. A commercial product is still a few years off, and while the company sees dollar signs in mostly consumer applications, it's also taking a bead on archival storage and is already in talks with several OEMs for drives, disks and players for that purpose.

Optical technology already has a number of advantages over traditional media, according to storage consultant Ara C. Trembly. They aren't subject to magnetic distortions like hard disks and have much faster data retrieval rates than tape. The disks can also be removed and stored very easily and can greatly reduce the storage footprint in large data centers. For data-intensive organizations like law firms and insurance companies, the combination of fast access and durability is very enticing.

To turn it into a true enterprise solution, however, we'll need tools like automated disk libraries and optical volume management. Fortunately, those systems are already available as firms try to drum up interest in current optical technology. Canada's StorageQuest, for example, recently launched the StorageQuest Centurion DiscHub Manager that brings optical management to the Centurion DiscHub system from DigiStore Solutions. The combination, which the companies are calling the Centurion DiscHub Workgroup, provides for a 100-slot optical library for about $3,000. With current disk technology, that provides about 500 GB of capacity, but if it can be adapted to the new GE technology, you could see libraries of up to 50 TB.

Of course, a lot of this will depend on whether optical technology can provide a cost-effect archival platform. But even here, optical is holding its own. Optimal Solutions reports that the cartridges for its Plasmon UDA (Ultra Density Optical) system cost $60 and can deliver upwards of 30 GB, about $2 per GB. The company combines the system with a hard disk array to form the Plasmon Archive Appliance, using optical as a long-term repository and the mechanical disks as a cache for high-speed retrieval.

We won't know the true cost of GE's holographic technology until actual products hit the channel, however, but it's a good bet that initial versions will cost a premium. The trick, then, is to engineer a system that offers either operational or ergonomic benefits so that enough early adopters will find value to bring down economies of scale for the rest of us.

Archives will still most likely offer a mix of disk and tape technology going forward, but I'm betting that optical solutions will own a larger share of that environment before too long.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 13, 2009 10:40 AM Aaron Price Aaron Price  says:

Consider a data solution: a 15U modular system requiring only 800W of MAX power (400-500W, nominal) with 21TB of online storage, 50TB of nearline storage (Blu-ray), and unlimited offline optical storage cartridged media with embedded, meta data flash-based cataloging of contents of each data cartridge, each holding up to 6.25TB to quickly restore shelved data as necessary from a shelf life archive of 100+ years.

Now, also consider that you will no longer need to leverage your expensive disk array or tape systems ever again to perform ongoing large-scale backups for existing customers, or third-party archving solutions such as Iron Mountain to manage mountains of tape media. This can all be achieved seemlessly with the TBYTe TeraStack solution from Hie Electronics. What's more is that this solution is exceptionally open and versatile - couple it with VMWare ESX and Synchsoft backup software (or any number of other industry leading backup software solutions).

Aug 16, 2009 1:58 PM Alani Kuye Alani Kuye  says:

We are talking about archiving, not straight storage. Firstly you shouldn't be archiving on hard disks, no matter how much storage capacity you have. It simply makes no sense from a technical, functional, compliance, and archival perspective. Archives must be on long term removable media that will require no migrations every few years, cost astronomical amounts to power and cool (between spin ups and spin downs), unpredictably fail (we all know about how disk clusters fail), must be available in the long term and more importantly must be written in non proprietary format. Hard disk does not meet any of this requirements regardless of how large a capacity you have.

When organizations talk about archiving it's because they already have disk clusters and are referring to professional grade information archiving based on ILM (information lifecycle management) protocols. This is an indicator of whats to come. These market processes take time, especially in unpredictable economic situations. As you can see for yourself, the adoption rate for blu ray at both levels (consumer and enterprise) has not only been steadily growing but particularly in the enterprise space it's been on an upward trend. For those who keep basing blu rays economics on events of last century, let me remind you that you can't solve today's problems with yesterdays solutions. Neither can you analyze today's trends based on last century's events. When a company invests in blu ray as their optical archiving media of choice, they are adopting an information lifecycle management strategy.

As for UDO - that technology has failed because Plasmon adopted a proprietary strategy in the hope of collecting licensing fees from anyone (manufacturers, users etc) remotely interested in UDO. Blu Ray has become the de-facto standard (add Toshiba giving up it's HD pipe dreams and joining the blu ray consortium as of a week ago).

There is a place for disk, tape and optical but which platform will be the standard adopted on all 3 platforms is now taking shape. For optical I'm betting on blu ray, disk is disk and tape may remain LTO variations. However, the UDO's, PDD's etc are at their 18th holes.

I rest my case.

Alani Kuye

Phantom Data Systems Inc.



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