Dallas Morning News

Newspaper turns to UDO for news that won't fit in print

November 9, 2005

4 Min Read
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Although more commonly used for compliance or as a safety net for lost information, archiving data can also drive revenue under the right circumstances.

That was the reason The Dallas Morning News decided to archive its data digitally. The newspaper selected Ultra Density Optical (UDO) technology for its archiving after looking at faster disk and cheaper tape alternatives. (See Optical WORMs Into Enterprise). Bob Mason, the paper's director of publishing systems at the time of the project, says he found that UDO provided the most bang for the buck. The 50-year lifespan of its cartridges helped seal the deal.

"There's a myriad of technologies for archiving data," Mason explains. "If you take all of a company's assets and put it on media, will you be able to read it again?"

The Morning News decided to digitally archive its photo library as another source of income. It can sell photos that never make it into the paper or repackage stories and photos to sell to market research firms. The archive also plays a major role in the daily newspaper production. When Pope John Paul II died last April, editors pulled up every photo they had of him and picked the best to use in that day's edition.

According to Mason, having information readily available makes it much more valuable. "If I need to go offsite or go to Iron Mountain to find them, they're of no use to me."Maintaining a digital archive at a major newspaper can be an overwhelming task. Mason says the paper will add more than 2 million images to the archive each year. So when The Morning News decided to permanently archive all its digital images late last year, it outlined a strategy: All the images had to be searchable by the newspaper editors, all archived data must be highly available, the system administration must be automated, and the system must pay for itself.

Mason settled on a Plasmon UDO library along with QStar Technologies' storage management software to handle migration and set retention and deletion policies. (See Permabit, QStar Hook Up for DR and QStar Now Supports Sony.) And while he was at it, Mason decided to archive business documents such as email, Word, and Excel files as well.

The paper also wanted technology that allowed editors and reporters to retrieve information in real time.

"If you've ever dealt with a reporter on deadline, they feel like the world is going to stop turning if they don't make deadline," he exclaims. [Ed. note: We know, we know.]

Mason priced his options, and found optical storage at $13 per Gbyte including hardware, software, and media was far below other disk alternatives EMC Centera ($45/Gbyte) and magnetic optical ($36/Gbyte). Tape was the cheapest option at $11/Gbyte.With an unlimited budget, he might have selected Centera or another content-addressable storage (CAS) disk system built more for fast retrieval than archiving. If price were Mason's only consideration, perhaps he would have chosen tape. Neither was the case, so he weighed performance against price.

"Centera is good technology," he says. "I'd love to have all the images online, but $45 a Gbyte doesn't make sense. Disk-based technology is not permanent and does fail. The tape guys say 'tape is cheap,' but the time to retrieve images is too long. I have to spin tape, find the image and restore it. And the reality is, tape cartridges do go bad."

Mason likes UDO's roadmap. Today it stores 30 Gbyte/s per platter, with the next generation to hold 60 Gbyte/s and eventually 120 Gbyte/s. He looked at Plasmon's UDO and Sony's Professional Disk for Data (PDD). Like UDO, PDD is based on blue-laser technology that increases capacity of the drives. Mason selected Plasmon because he expects Sony to eventually concentrate on optical DVD for archiving movies.

The Dallas Morning News started with a 7.1-TByte Plasmon G238, and upgraded to a 19.1-Tbyte G638 three months later. The G238 has a list price starting at $65,000 and the G638 starts at $110,000. Mason estimates the Plasmon system paid for itself in six months. He also accomplished his main goal with the project, although he cheated a bit.

"I told my team to build an archive that will be used after I am no longer with the company," Mason says. "The last thing I want is a new director to come in and say, 'What kind of idiot built this thing?' I didn't know I would be gone five months later, so I guess I achieved my goal through the back door."Mason left The Morning News to become CTO at ImpreMedia last June. Now he's planning to digitally archive information at ImpreMedia's Spanish-language newspapers in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.

"I'm looking at a similar solution on a much larger scale," he says. "Now I have newspapers spread across the country."

Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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