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MO In The New Millennium.

An Interview With Maxoptix's Gary Potts

Magneto-Optic drives may be like the Mac truck of the computer industry: they may not be the fastest or sexiest products available, but they can usually be relied on to keep running and to get the important jobs done. Like the Mac truck, MO drives are currently put into much different application uses than their distant cousins, the CD, CD-ROM, CD-RW, DVD, and various flavors of recordable DVD.

Today, the primary markets for MO have narrowed down to "fairly specific vertical markets," Gary D. Potts, president and CEO of Maxoptix Corporation said. The MO drives are seeing a lot of use in "the medical imaging business. The drives are being used as data archive and storage units within high end scanning equipment, across a broad range of products," Potts noted.

Although the overall market for MO "has settled down quite a bit, in terms of competition," Maxoptix continues to increase its market share. In addition to medical imaging, which requires high data integrity and a shelf life that is as long or longer than the life of the patients whose images are stored on the media, Maxoptix has "a long and successful track record supporting the Mac (Macintosh computers, not Mac trucks) marketplace for creative applications, such as multimedia.

Maxoptix is also making "inroads into telecommunication." Further, the company has "aggressive plans to move into broader markets--the tape backup and retrieval market is one, to be sure, but we're also positioning new technologies to support the ever growing data storage requirements that are driven by the Internet. The expanding pipeline is used to move data in greater volume than ever before," Potts said.

In addition to 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch drives, Maxoptix now ships libraries with a wide range of capacities. "We're rolling out a jukebox product line offering high capacity libraries that can utilize up to 278 disks," Potts said.

Breaking Away From Standards

The current drives and media offered by Maxoptix are fully compliant with the ISO standard for MO devices. Currently, Maxoptix offers 4X and 8X drives that are limited to 5.2GB of storage on two-sided media.

While adherence to this standard is essential for current users of legacy applications, the ISO standards, which date back nearly a decade, don't provide adequate room for increased performance or capacity that will be needed by customers in other areas.

Maxoptix is "investing up to 20% of our revenue in R&D for our next generation technology," Potts said. The company is "on track [to] have a product in the market in the fall of 2000," Potts predicted.

The new technology, called Optical Super Density (OSD), will create 20GB capacity per side of a 5.25-inch cartridge. "Our technical development is geared to provide a significant increase in capacity per disk at about the same price levels that we're shipping today's technologies. This is a tremendous breakout for the customer," Potts said. Unlike other technologies that increase the price of their drives and media, but cite a lower cost per megabyte, the OSD drives and media will retain pricing similar to Maxoptix's current drive and media offerings, while providing a much lower cost per megabyte. OSD media "will have 4-8 times increased capacity per disk compared to the existing technology," Potts said.

"We're looking to displace some [technologies]. We [will] offer high capacities, high transfer rates in order to position [OSD drives] into corporate networks. We can possibly displace market share in the midrange tape market. We can also support the Internet infrastructure's requirements that are now emerging. Using [OSD] data can be created, edited, stored, and retrieved on MO drives. [The types of data] includes applications such as video streaming, teleconferencing, and distance learning that are enabled by the Internet and the expansion of Internet bandwidth," Potts continued.

Potts also sees increasing demand for scalable storage solutions. Removable is extremely scalable because all you have to do is add more cartridges. This can be done both at the desktop and with automated libraries. There will be a place for a high performance removable storage device that will be very reliable. [An OSD drive] can coexist in a place that will have RAIDs and lots of hard drives and tape backup for archiving and retrieval. We envision MO libraries and MO drives as instruments to allow quick expansion on a network. For example, [MO can be used for] the configuration of a NAS peripheral. This could be used in HSM or can take over some nearline backup activities where people need highly reliable restoration of data that has been copied onto backup media," Potts continued.

Although Maxoptix fully supports the ISO standard and is committed to "maintain [our] legacy [product line] as long as customers want it," the OSD technologies will not initially be offered as a standard. "Our goal, and I think you will find this true of any companies creating advanced technologies, is to DLT is a good model. DLT became the standard by being the best in the market at the time. [Once OSD becomes a de facto standard,] we can develop consortiums and interchange. Our goal is for Maxoptix to bring [OSD] to market as fast as possible and to capture the opportunity, which we see as quite large," Potts said.

According to material available from Maxoptix's web site, OSD implements a number of new technology approaches. A smaller aperture lens than the one currently used can produce a spot on the disk that will enable "higher capacities by achieving higher track density and higher bit density, while using low cost laser diodes that are in volume today," according to a company white paper.

In addition, changing from the current thick overcoat on MO media, which reduces the strength of the signal reaching the recording substrate, the new OSD media will use a much thinner coating, similar to the one used on CD and DVD media. Using the thinner media will enable higher data densities to be recorded onto the media.

Additional technologies include a recessed objective lens, which reduces the risk of problems with lens contamination and enables the magnetic head to get closer to the media (and, thus, record at higher densities) and Surface Array Recording (SAR). Unlike hard disks, which can only use one head at a time or MO drives that typically require a disk to be flipped to read on the other side, SAR heads will operate independently of each other, effectively allowing simultaneous, independent, reading and writing on both sides of the disk, and doubling the data transfer rates when compared to single head methodologies.

In spite of the advanced features that will be built into the drives, Potts expects that the drives can be easily integrated into current installations and current libraries. It should be clear, however, that OSD drives would not be able to read or write ISO standard media.

The Competition ... And The Future

Maxoptix clearly isn't the only company that has announced new technologies being developed. "Terastor is developing a drive that offers similar benefits to the marketplace," Potts noted. While Terastor (Corporation) has made announcements, it is unclear when such products may be offered, although current information on the company's website indicates that first product will be available at the end of 1999.

"Sony has been leading efforts to bring out a 14X ISO compatible drive. This will offer 4.6GB per side and should be a good offering from Sony," Potts noted. "We are considering a program to support 14X and will have more information on that later. At this point, we have made a strategic decision to migrate the technology from the extreme high end into a broader marketplace," Potts said.

MO is obviously not dead, although the relevance of the current standards as they apply to new markets requiring higher performance, higher capacity MO drives may place them into jeopardy. For current users, where legacy needs require permanent storage and full backward compatibility, drives that support ISO media will continue to be important.

"A suggestion I would make is that we've got to be willing to look ahead to the future and envision what the requirements for data storage will be two years from now, rather than at what happened in the past. The whole paradigm is changing, such that there will be a tremendous need for reliable removable storage; for online data restoral, as well as for a reliable backup device," Potts concluded.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Company Business and Marketing; Maxoptix's drives and media, Magneto-Optic drives
Author:Brownstein, Mark
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Sep 1, 1999
Previous Article:Why The CD Tower Crumbled.
Next Article:SANs Are Here.

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