Why Optical Is Dead

Optical can't keep up with the changes of the last 10 years

George Crump

December 18, 2008

3 Min Read
Network Computing logo

11:40 AM -- Last week the news came out about Plasmon plc (London: PLM), and fellow Byte and Switch blogger Howard Marks wrote about the event. The whole process made me wonder: Why is optical dead?

First, the market that optical was trying to address was basically data archiving of emails, old files, images, and compliance-related information. Certainly it is a growing market, but one that has changed entirely over the last 10 years. I believe that optical has not been able to keep up with the changes.

Archiving has changed on two fronts. In the 90s, you archived because it was the right thing to do. You could not afford terabytes of disk space, so clearing out primary storage was worth the effort.

Second, we didn't have the amount of regulation that we do now. Most importantly, these new regulations are enforced -- when people start going to jail or paying big fines because of sloppy data retention, it becomes important.

These new requirements led to a "keep everything" mentality that optical did not have the capacity or speed to keep up with, and data centers began expanding their primary storage. For a while, optical still had a role to play in the retention space because of its ability to easily scale (just add a blank platter) and support WORM media.Then, what I believe was the big change took place -- compliance disk archiving by vendors like EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Permabit Technology Corp. , and Archivas Inc. , now Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) . These were systems that aimed right at optical, taking away its scalability advantage by adding nodes of disks, as opposed to blank optical platters, and by providing a WORM file system.

In addition to negating the apparent advantages of optical, disk also brought the advantages of disk archiving. This meant more than just speed of access, it also offered ease of access. Now you can use a simple NFS or CIFS mount point, for example. Also, disk optimization through technologies like data deduplication and compression made the disk itself more efficient, to offset the slim price advantage that optical may have still had.

The final issue here still remains migration to the archive. The problem is that most migration software applications are written for the world of tape libraries or optical jukeboxes. This adds complexity to the application that is no longer needed. Global file systems that treat file data paths the way DNS servers treat IP addresses are an excellent option. There also are applications like Enigma Software Group USA LLC 's SmartMove that keep things simple.

And there are companies like Ocarina Networks , which uses special algorithms to optimize data that does not typically deliver good results with standard de-duplication (images, for example) prior to moving the data to a disk archive. This allows not only the migration of data, but also increases the efficiency of how that data is stored in the archive.

There will be attempts to resurrect optical; Blue-ray is an example. But eventually disk-based archiving will do to optical, and eventually tape, what iTunes is doing to DVDs and the video store.George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland , which provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.

About the Author(s)

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights