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Optical - the bright future in enterprise storage which never happened

by Zsolt Kerekes - editor - February 2008

When I started in 1998 there was a lot of industry excitement about the promise of optical storage.

Marketers in optical storage companies set the hype volume at a high level - which was necessary in those days for anyone to be heard above the din of the dotcom boom.

It was not uncommon to read claims like:-
  • "Our optical disks will offer more capacity than hard drives." and / or
  • "Our new optical storage will be faster than hard disks." and / or
  • "Optical storage will replace tape and disks as the primary backup medium."
Although hundreds of millions of dollars got poured into such ventures (a small dribble compared to the the multi-billion dollar VC storage stream) nothing very significant ever came out the other end. And certainly nothing approaching the aspirations of the industry.

Instead the optical storage industry has settled into a comfortable sort of middle age couch potato early retirement. Instead of offering revolutionary products - they're mostly content churning out bits of shiny plastic for delivering music or movies.

There are still some comnpanies flogging the dead horse of optical backup and archiving. But for most users - the proposition of backing up a single hard disk onto 10 or more optical ones - doesn't sound like a better way to do things.

Every couple of years - the rallying cries from the old pretenders (or new ones) of optical storage are heard again. But after a few flurries and flag waving press releases - they go quiet and nothing more is heard.

If anything does happen to change that - I'll let you know.
James Russell - inventor of CD-ROM.

Find more industry firsts - reported in the news as it happened in storage history.
Aleratec Names New VP Sales and Marketing

Editor:- May 5, 2009 - Aleratec today named Howard Wing to lead the company's sales and marketing activities.

Howard Wing's recent experience includes VP of Sales and Marketing at Plextor where he was actively involved in industry initiatives to bring USB 2.0 and SATA interfaces to the optical disc markets.

GE Talks About 500GB Opticals

NISKAYUNA, N.Y - April 27, 2009 - GE researchers have successfully demonstrated a micro-holographic storage material that can support 500GB in a standard DVD-size disk.

"GE's breakthrough is a huge step toward bringing our next generation holographic storage technology to the everyday consumer," said Brian Lawrence, who leads GE's Holographic Storage program. "Because GE's micro-holographic discs could essentially be read and played using similar optics to those found in standard Blu-ray players, our technology will pave the way for cost-effective, robust and reliable holographic drives that could be in every home."

Editor's comments:- researchers in the optical storage industry always sounds optimistic - like those in the cancer cure research market.

If you extrapolated from all the many times that cancer has been cured in rats - you could reasonable expect that the human race would be cured of this scourge by now. For decades a series of optical storage startups have been promising to deliver drives that match hard drive capacity at lower cost. I've got enough lists on this site already. So I'll spare you that one.

Moser Baer Announces Certification for 6x Blu-ray Media

New Delhi, India - December 23, 2008 - Moser Baer today announced that it has received product verification from the Blu-ray Disc Association for its next generation blu-ray 1x-6x discs.

With this certification, Moser Baer has become the first company outside Japan to develop and ship BDR 1x-6x media. The next generation BD formats have a capacity ranging from 25GB to 50GB and offer more than 5 to 10x the data storage capacity of standard DVD media. This latest innovation from Moser Baer has come in close partnership with OM&T, its Netherlands-based subsidiary. ...Moser Baer profile, Storage ORGs, optical storage drives

Call/Recall Announces Laser Diode Partner

San Diego – May 27, 2008 - Nichia Corp and Call/Recall, Inc have agreed to jointly develop a high-capacity optical disc recording and playback systems.

The platform is designed around Nichia commercially available violet and blue laser diodes and Call/Recall's terabyte media.

Call/Recall anticipates being able to release a Blu-ray compatible disk as well as a backward compatible player able to read Blu-ray disks as well as Call/Recall's higher capacity formats. Call/Recall also intends to use the technology for the enterprise market for the archiving of corporate information. ...Call/Recall profile, optical storage drives

HD DVD Takes Early Retirement

Editor:- February 18, 2008 - industry rumors speculate that Toshiba may pull the plug on its HD DVD standard conceding to Blu-ray.

Blu Ray marketers will be rejoicing - but this media war is a side issue.

4 years ago in an article called Do CDs and DVDs Have a Long Term Future? I warned that the 20 year long run of removable consumer optical media which started with the CD - would come to an early end.

In a follow up article (published Jan 2007) Don't be Taken in by Blu Ray vs DVD Sophistry I predicted that neither Blu Ray nor HD DVD would have a long market life - because internet downloads would replace physical disks as the primary form of non broadcast movie distribution.
Nibble:- Don't be Taken in by Blu Ray vs DVD Sophistry
News stories from vendors are a valuable source of market information - but they can sometimes create a misleading expectation of what could happen when they talk about predicting technology trends.

Vendors understandably talk up their market's growth prospects by citing optimistic analyst predictions. The reason is that most buyers are cautious and don't want to be the first to get burned by the bugs in a new technology. By suggesting that a new market will be very big, or will grow very fast, or has already reached a critical mass - vendors hope that buyers will be more confident and move faster along the new technology adoption curve.

I can tell you from decades of tracking such technology predictions that they often turn out to be as inaccurate as getting an opinion from your pet dog or cat. But until markets become established so that it's possible to track revenue or other historic data - comparing crystal ball images is as good as it gets - and makes for interesting editorial too.

Take the case of what's happening now in the consumer optical storage market.

A simple search on Google shows that many editors and analysts have bought into the market model currently being pushed by manufacturers who are recycling the "Betamax versus VHS" legend as an analog for the "High Definition DVD versus Blu Ray" market.

It's a seductive argument (for both sides) because it leads you down a tunnel in which you are left thinking that the future of buying and storing big globs of portable entertainment has to be one or the other. But that's not necessarily so.

Instead of the Betamax / VHS case study so beloved by commentators I'd like to call to your attention another old (and mostly forgotten) but more recent example - which is much closer to home - the battle of the Super Floppies.

What seemed at stake in the mid 1990s was:- what format would replace the 3.5" floppy drive? - an appendage which once adorned hundreds of millions of PCs.

Competing for attention were several incompatible formats by Iomega, Samsung and Sony. As we now know none of these royal claimants took possession of the floppy throne. Instead a republic was declared.

Most people found out they could exchange information much more conveniently using email instead of thin plastic wallets. And software publishers found that CDs were a more appropriate form of software distribution rather than boxed sets of floppies. The floppy drive slot was replaced by a CD and then later DVD drive - and not by a super floppy drive.

Fast forward to today's digital entertainment storage and distribution market (which is the setting for the Blu Ray vs HD DVD debates.

The simplest way to sell content is via the internet.

The simplest way to store hundreds of movies on a single storage device is on a single big hard disk.

I wrote an article saying something similar back in 2004 - and neither the appearance of holographic storage nor UDO etc has changed my view.

True - a lot of boxes will get sold with slots which are compatible with shiny looking coated plastic disks in the next few years - but there's a significant probability that the Super Optical market could soon go the way of the Super Floppies - and that neither Blu Ray nor HD DVD have a long future.

See also:- previous article:- the Future of High Speed Disk Drives for Servers
"The recordable optical disk volume, valued at 8,196 million units in 2013, is estimated to drop to 4,224 million units by 2025" - September 2015

see also:- storage market research
optical storage drive manufacturers
mentioned in our news pages

This list is no longer updated.
Alera Technologies




Freecom Technologies




Interactive Media




Kano Technologies


Lite-On IT



Mitsubishi Kagaku Media


Oak Technology

Optical Storage Technology Assoc

Pacific Digital



Primera Technology


Samsung Electronics



Sunland International

THOMSON multimedia



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Flash Memory
Megabyte knew you could use light for
communications, but he wasn't quite sure
how it worked for storage...
read article by Plasmon
Bare Media Exposed - Looking at the Contenders for Optical Media Archiving - article by Plasmon

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, founded in 1987, has nearly 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 EMEA, looks at the critical factors for the new products now available and those emerging so you can assess which will work best for you. ... read the article, ...Plasmon profile, Optical Libraries
Do CDs and DVDs Have a Long Term Future as Digital Storage? - article

"CDs have already been around for 20 years - so that may seem like forever and you may think that DVDs too will still be around just as long. But my own view is that these are merely short term stepping stones to something else in the same way that scrolls and loose collections of paper were a transient phase which gave way to the bound book." the article


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