Haunted by old storage

The old trusty (well, not that trusty) diskette may be officially dead, but I still have a few dozen or so lying around in my lab. Unfortunately, I can't toss them into the wastebasket yet because some still contain useful data, such as the bootstrap of full server backups.

It's possible that I will have to keep those relics from another computing age for quite some time, which is not unusual in IT, especially when dealing with storage devices.

We often start storing our data to new devices while still maintaining data on old media, and I am sure that snooping through the data vaults of many companies would turn up several different models of backup media, probably waiting to be disposed of when their data content finally expires.

That trend will likely increase as new technologies bring an unprecedented abundance of media and devices. On my desktop alone, I count at least six different data recording devices in addition to the internal disk drive, although they address dissimilar requirements.

For instance, with 35GB of capacity on a removable square cartridge just three inches wide, the Iomega REV blends the best features of tapes and disk drives. Its bundled applications add flexibility to use the REV as an additional disk device to drag and drop files from the primary drive, or as the target of backup jobs.

At $400 plus $60 for additional media, the REV may not be the least expensive solution, but it's certainly one of the most innovative. It will probably make my tape reels obsolete, but certainly not ready for disposal (not yet, at least).

With its USB 2.0 connection and a miniature power supply, the REV is also traveler friendly, but would not be my first choice if I had to carry a data medium and its drive around. Instead, the Fujitsu DynaMO (MO stands for Magneto Optical) 1300U2 Pocket would be my preferred travel companion. Its media exactly fits the contours of a 3.5" diskette, but with a respectable capacity of 1.3GB.

The 1300U2's external size is comparable to the REV, but requires only a USB connection to work, and Windows installation is driverless, which makes it easy to use on a borrowed PC. Furthermore, common road threats such as magnetic fields and sudden shocks could eventually hurt a disk drive but can't harm MO media.

Obviously, at an online price of less than $250 for the drive and around $20 for media, you buy the 1300U2 not to get the cheapest bargain on personal storage but for its secure, MO-compatible format and the long-established presence of this technology in companies' vaults.

It's not on my desktop yet, but there is a new laser-based technology that promises to outperform MO in capacity and transfer rate: Sony's Professional Disc for Data, known as ProData.

ProData devices use a laser beam significantly smaller than that of DVDs and MO, which makes much higher recording densities possible. In fact, Sony claims a single side capacity of 23GB and a transfer rate varying from 9 to 11MB/sec for its first, just-released ProData drives and media.

Currently, ProData offers internal and external 5.25" drives, featuring read-write and WORM (write once read many) capability, with SCSI and USB 2.0 connectivity. The new technology does come at a price: expect to pay $3,000 or more for a drive and $45 for media.

Interestingly, Sony estimates half-century data longevity for ProData media, the longest claimed by any other media to date, and lays out a road map that should increase capacity and transfer rate fourfold by 2007.

Now let's step back for a second and compare ProData to UDO (ultra density optical), a technology that Plasmon has been promoting since last year as the logical successor to the dying MO king.

It seems to me that these two technologies are headed for a collision. One thing is for sure: Regardless of which technology will inherit its legacy, companies will have to keep that MO media in their vault well after its demise.

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