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Bare Media Exposed - Looking at the Contenders for Optical Media Archiving click for company profile - Plasmon
July 11, 2005

Steve Tongish, Director of Marketing EMEA, Plasmon

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Editor's intro:- Optical archiving has become a legally mandated storage technology in many markets. There are a lot of new optical media technologies and packaging formats to choose from. But which ones will stand the test of time in terms of data reliability and cost of ownership? Plasmon has 2 decades of experience as a systems and media supplier in the optical archiving industry. This article by Steve Tongish, Plasmon's Director of Marketing Europe, looks at the critical factors for the new products now available and those emerging so you can assess which will work best for you.

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The use of optical storage has been part of the computer industry for more than 25 years. It has proven itself as both a professional data archive technology, in an ISO standard 5.25 inch cartridge format and as a cost effective mass-market consumable in the form of CDs and DVDs.

The use of optical data storage for professional archive environments is enjoying a real renaissance since the availability of much higher capacity blue laser based products. The growth in use of optical archives has stimulated debate about the relative strengths and weaknesses of different formats, with one of the most interesting being the use of bare optical media (media not protected by a cartridge) vs. cartridged media.

The Trade-offs

The advantage to using bare optical media in an automated library is increased volumetric density. You can get more pieces of bare media than cartridged media into the same space. While this can offer greater capacity, there are some significant trade-offs that should be carefully considered when choosing an optical format.

Plasmon manufactures UDO libraries, drives and media, as well as 120mm bare media DVD libraries and is a recognised authority in CD and DVD research and development. High quality bare DVD media with hardcoat protection can be appropriate for certain applications. This being said, bare media is highly susceptible to contamination and physical damage, both outside and inside a library.
A Capacity Compromise

Plasmon's experience with bare media and that of its customers is very clear. The support burden and risk to data with bare media is greater than with cartridged media. Many DVD customers recognised this risk and compensated by maintaining multiple copies of the media to protect against potential media damage and data loss. While this can be an effective strategy, it adds dramatically to media management overheads and mitigates the original advantage of higher library capacity. In practice, higher capacity library configurations achieved through bare media often represent a false economy due to the increased vulnerability of the media itself.

Blu-ray Support

Concerns for bare media contamination and damage are significant with lower density DVD media and these concerns are multiplied several fold with bare 120mm blue laser technologies such as Blu-ray and their consumer focused rival HD DVD. While most Blu-ray media is targeted at consumer video applications, those versions adapted for data storage were designed with a cartridge. Despite the recommendation for cartridged media from key Blu-ray drive manufacturers, some library vendors remove this media from its cartridge to avoid the development cost of redesigning their existing bare media DVD libraries.
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Bare Blu-ray Longevity

While bare Blu-ray media may offer greater library capacity, it is a completely unproven strategy. There is absolutely no track-record for how sensitive high-density bare Blu-ray media will fair over time. One of the principle advantages of optical has always been media longevity and the use of bare media compromises this advantage. Plasmon's experience with lower density bare DVD media and the recommendation from Blu-ray drive vendors for cartridged media strongly suggests that bare Blu-ray media is a dangerous proposition.

Application Considerations

Many of Plasmon's DVD library customers implemented this technology specifically to take advantage of the pervasiveness of DVD. For example, they use their libraries as a centralised archive to hold data gathered from the field on inexpensive DVD drives or to physically distribute DVDs from the central archive (e.g. field collected photographic content). The new, high density, bare Blu-ray media technology uses much more expensive drives that are not commonly available in the field, making these kind of applications costly and impractical.

Too Many Standards

Another consideration that cannot be ignored is the proliferation of industry formats for 120mm blue laser technology. Among the manufacturers, three competing "standards" have emerged: Blu-ray, HD DVD and ProData; each with their own variants. Some of these products are targeted at the consumer space and some have been adapted for data storage. Some use cartridged media and some use bare media. This struggle for standards is looking like a repeat of the DVD wars and puts organisations into the position of betting on one standard vs. another.
Steve Tongish - Plasmon - the author
About the author:-

Steve Tongish has more than 20 years of storage industry experience with a particular focus on the management and archival storage of business information. Having worked for both software and hardware storage vendors, he has a broad perspective on the storage requirements of customers across many industries.

Steve is the Director of Marketing (EMEA) for Plasmon and is based in Cambridge, UK.

Steve is a US citizen, has a civil engineering degree from The University of Colorado and has been living and working in Europe since 1995.

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The Last Word

The advantage gained in system capacity using bare optical media represents a real trade-off in data integrity. The risks of bare media should not really be surprising to anyone. After all, there is no other professional data storage product on the market using a bare media format (magnetic disk, tape or optical). Organisations that need to archive business information for years or decades should carefully differentiate between professional and consumer products and consider if they want to gamble their valuable data on exposed media. Data integrity and media longevity are aspects of a professional archive that should not be compromised.

The UDO Cartridge Advantage

High density UDO media has received overwhelming industry support for professional archive applications and has been internationally certified by ISO, IEC and Ecma. UDO media is protected by a robust 5.25 inch antistatic cartridge, which shields the recording surface from contamination and mechanical damage making UDO a totally non-contact media. There is no doubt that cartridged media reduces the overall administration burden, makes offline media management a practical proposition and dramatically improves data integrity.

These facts are borne out by Plasmon's own library sales patterns. Since the release of UDO, most of Plasmon's customers that used bare media DVD libraries in the past have changed their archive strategy to UDO. This is not simply because 30GB UDO has a higher capacity than 9.4GB DVD, but because it requires much lower maintenance and has exceptionally better data integrity. Regarding the acceptance of cartridged UDO libraries vs. bare Blu-ray libraries, the market has clearly spoken. Plasmon, HP and other library vendors have successfully installed thousands of UDO libraries worldwide, compared to only a handful of bare media Blu-ray libraries. ...Plasmon profile
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