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12/26/2002
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Pioneer Creates Optical Storage For The Little Guy

Devices are designed for small- and midsize-business market.

DVD technology is bringing a much-needed capacity and mindshare boost to optical storage. Its predecessor, the compact disc, never stored enough data to make it a viable storage media for most companies. Those who used CDs often ended up with discs strewn around the office like coasters.

Because a single DVD can store up to 4.7 Gbytes of data, the capacity issue is gone. Pioneer Electronics Inc. will ship devices aimed at the small- and midsize-business market. The Pioneer DRM-3000 FlexLibrary, one of the first such devices aimed at small and midsize businesses, will be available by the end of the month. For the differing write-once, read-many/write-over/read-only requirements that many customers have, the 3000 will let them mix and match DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD/CD-ROM, or CD-R technology in the same jukebox.

Query response time of eight seconds isn't going to concern hard-disk or performance tape vendors, but a price of around $6 for 4.7 Gbytes of capacity should draw lots of attention from small banks, small hospitals, and even large medical practices; the same capacity on in hard-disk storage would be about $235.

One industry analyst likes the idea that low-cost, high-density drives will get into the hands of smaller companies. Wolfgang Schlichting at IDC says DVD drives such as those found in the 3000 are also good for any company that has to meet government regulations requiring media that hold data like a vault for a very long time. "DVD is low-cost media with a very long life," Schlichting says, "and it doesn't require the same handling that tape does." Ne'er-do-wells can write over data on most tape drives already out in the installed base.

Paul Meyhoefer, director of sales and marketing for the mass storage division at Pioneer, says the company just got into the business market in 1992 but has learned quickly what IT executives like, such as compatibility. "They can take a DVD from the jukebox and install it right into their PCs," he says. Meyhoefer thinks its write-once nature and higher capacity will make DVD-based optical storage more attractive to the medical industry. "New technology in cardiology can unleash a gigabyte of data per scan," he says. Mammography labs, which unleash about 50 Mbytes per scan, are a potential market for the 3000, Meyhoefer says. "A typical mammography lab will take two or three years to produce 1.5 terabytes of data."

An existing bank customer that's been a user of two high-end DRM-7000 FlexLibraries since 2000, storing between 80 million and 84 million check images, originally chose optical storage because of retrieval times. "The objective was being able to retrieve an image of a check at anyone's workstation, at any branch, while the customer was there," says Jim Simon, VP of operations at Intrust Bank. He was even conservative with the tests. "Our spec was 12 minutes," he recalls, "and tape would sometimes never bring it back at all."

Simon is glad that double-sided DVD prices have come down from $30 to $13 for the same capacity since he was able to replace proprietary magnetic storage, a rewritable optical disk that uses a combination of magnetic and optical methods. Magnetic optical disks use removable cartridges and come in two sizes. The 3-1/2-inch disks hold 128 Mbytes, 230 Mbytes, 640 Mbytes, and 1.3 Gbytes, while the 5-1/4-inch disks hold 650 Mbytes, 1.3 Gbytes, 2.6 Gbytes, 5.2 Gbytes, and 9.1 Gbytes. The latter are double-sided but must be removed and flipped to use the other side. In 1995, Pinnacle Micro introduced a proprietary 4.6-Gbyte drive that also supported 2.6-Gbyte cartridges.

Response times of 8 to 12 seconds seem to work for tellers and customers at around 50 Intrust branches throughout south-central and northeast Kansas. And, says Simon, "I can access a check image from any one of them at my desktop."

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