Good News From The Optical Front

CD-ROM and CD-R markets are strong, magneto-optic (MO) continues to enjoy a strong installed base, and DVD is on the way.

Life is good in the optical world. That's the word from Kirk Topliffe, director of sales and marketing for Allstor Software's American operations (Melbourn, Hertfordshire, U.K.), and Riccardo Finotti, VP of worldwide sales and marketing for QStar Technologies (Ft. Walton Beach, FL).

MO Is Still Kicking
But, which optical market is the hottest? "As much as it pains me to say it, I think MO (magneto-optic) still has the most loyal following," said Topliffe. "Not just in terms of end users, but in the reseller community as well. MO is very stable, and VARs are comfortable with that. So, MO has an advantage in the channel."

QStar's Finotti agrees with Topliffe. He says the comfort levels of VARs might be holding DVD back a bit. "VARs are quite comfortable with MO and CD. They're not as comfortable with DVD-RAM yet — and with good reason. The lack of DVD standards is holding back the adoption rate. Besides, DVD-RAM has not been around very long."

I asked Topliffe why it pains him to admit that MO is still strong. He said, "As far as standards go, I think DVD-RAM has a tremendous advantage over MO in terms of data interchange. DVD-ROM drives are already shipping as standard equipment in PCs. Those drives will be able to read most DVD- and CD-based media. I think this gives DVD-RAM a clear advantage in the area of data distribution. MO will never enjoy such status."

Okay. Okay. We keep hearing about DVD-rewritable. When will DVD-rewritable finally take off? "The feedback I get from the VAR community," said Finotti, "is that they're taking a wait-and-see approach. Clearly, the DVD-rewritable standards are still being defined. Most VARs are waiting for the dust to settle."

A DVD-RAM Success Story
Topliffe agrees. "The standards war is frustrating, but the solution is to communicate success stories. We need to tell the stories of companies using DVD-RAM successfully."

One such success story involves the United States Bankruptcy Court in Las Vegas. According to Topliffe, the court is using a DVD-RAM jukebox to store TIFF images and text files that belong in the public domain. "The court was using 17 GB tape cartridges, and it had more than 100 tapes. The court was backing up at the rate of two tapes per day, so it was becoming very expensive."

Topliffe said the court wanted to incorporate a new type of nearline, high-capacity media, and the DVD-RAM jukebox solved the problem. Essentially, the jukebox functions like WORM (write once, read many). "The files must be non-rewritable," said Topliffe. "Today's jukeboxes can format the media to make it non-erasable at the hardware level. It's a firmware solution, not a software solution."

Once saved, the court makes these images and documents available via the Web. Lawyers — or anyone who is looking for information on bankruptcy cases — can search the Web according to particular criteria."

A Steady Optical Market
Both Topliffe and Finotti agree that the optical market is doing well. "The market for CD-ROM and CD-R is very steady," said Topliffe. "The VAR community has a very good sense that these are stable technologies. There were some early issues — like buffer problems and time outs — but those issues have been overcome."

Finotti believes the DVD market will begin to pick up soon. "Storage area networks (SANs) and network attached storage (NAS) will drive demand for DVD-RAM jukeboxes," he said. "Some customers will continue to use MO in these configurations, but companies looking for less expensive solutions will go to DVD-RAM."

"As time goes by," he continued, "DVD-RAM will continue to prove itself. The DVD Forum will eventually settle the format issues, and DVD jukeboxes will become increasingly popular."