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The future of CD-RW and DVD in corporate IT. (Storage Networking).

Today, it is easy to forget that recordable optical technologies were once so unusual and expensive that only corporate data centers could afford them. These technologies have come a long way over the last two decades, as we've gone from 5.25-inch optical disc drives with $10,000 price tags, to CD/DVD burners that are either bundled with base model PCs or retail for under $250.

Despite the proliferation of CD-R/RW and DVD drives in mass-market consumer electronics, entertainment, and PC products, they still have an important role to play in corporate data storage applications. The data requirements of businesses are growing at a phenomenal rate estimated to be as high as 70 percent per year by the Gartner Group. This means that in 20 years...hold on...before we get too deeply into prognostication about the future of recordable optical technology, let's conduct a brief survey of the current landscape.

Recordable Compact Disc--Simple and Reliable, but Limited Capacity

CD-R and CD-RW are familiar acronyms to everyone by now. A long time ago, the computer industry decided to settle on a single set of technology standards for recording and rewriting compact discs. Without the ISO standards endorsed by all manufacturers, the CD industry would not have enjoyed such constant growth over the past decade. Responsible media and drive suppliers recognize the importance of these ISO standards, and the need to maintain them in each product generation for backwards compatibility.

Today's CD-R/RW burners feature very high operational speeds--up to 52X write-once recording and 24X rewritable (erasable)--and are available in a variety of internal, external, and even portable system configurations. The drives themselves attach to computers using a wide range of interfaces, from legacy ATAPI and SCSI connectors, to High-Speed USB 2.0 and cutting-edge Fire Wire (IEEE 1394). Compact discs hold 650-700 megabytes of data, movies or music, which puts them on the low end of the capacity-scale when compared with magnetic tape, hard drive, and other data storage options.

Because CD technology is now ubiquitous, it guarantees interoperability across a broad base of systems and geographies. Recognizing the limited usefulness of the 1.44MB floppy disk, four industry giants--Compaq (now HP), Microsoft, Philips, and Sony--decided to develop a standard for a true drag-and-drop file system for rewritable CDs. The Mount Rainier format (also known as CD-MRW) is rapidly gaining ground as a universal standard for native OS support of CD-RW drives. In addition to drag-and-drop files, Mount Rainier also lets you pop an unformatted disc into the drive and use it immediately.

Recordable DVD--Large Capacity and Versatile, but Confusing Standards

In 1996, the compact disc industry unveiled its next-generation technology: DVD. An acronym for digital versatile disc, DVD is indeed highly adaptable, with five different physical formats for (1) feature-length motion pictures, (2) audio, (3) read-only data, (4) write-once, read-many data, and (5) rewritable data.

DVD has much more data storage capacity than compact disc technology--each disc holds 4.7 gigabytes or about seven times more information than a CD. But unlike the highly standardized world of CD-R/RW, there are still several competing recordable DVD standards.

All recordable drives can read DVD-ROM discs, but each uses a different type of disc for recording. DVD-R, which first became available in 1997, can record data once (sequentially only), while the rewritable formats, DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD+RW, can all be rewritten thousands of times.

DVD-RW is Pioneer's evolutionary development of existing CD-RW/DVD-R technology, which became available at the end of 1999, while the alternative DVD+RW standard was developed by Phillips and Sony. Although it is impossible to predict the ultimate outcome of this particular standards battle, it is easy to understand why some IT departments are reluctant to purchase recordable DVD systems until the standards have been finalized.

Common Benefits of Recordable CUs and DVDs

Both CD and DVD technologies offer many benefits in the corporate IT world, starting with the highly portable nature of the drives and media. No one would dream of lugging a magnetic tape drive around on the road, but every notebook computer maker offers optional or built-in recordable CD and DVD drives, or combo drives that can handle both media. The discs themselves are very lightweight, yet relatively durable, especially compared to tape cartridges.

CD/DVD discs are ideal for transferring large amounts of data or files from one system to another. Whether you are transferring data, audio, video or image files, there is an optical disc that will suit your needs. CDs can be written in under three minutes, while DVDs can be written in less than 15 minutes. And with advanced recording features such as BURN-Proof, it is nearly impossible for users to create "coasters."

Cost is another factor that goes in favor of CD and DVD. When purchased in bulk quantities, the media costs a fraction of a cent per megabyte, and the prices of drives keep falling. Compared with other segments of the removable storage industry, the CD/DVD market is dominated by large multinational companies with well-known brand names, so there's little risk of buying a dead-end solution from a company that won't be around to support it tomorrow.

Overall, it is relatively easy for IT departments to feel comfortable about purchasing CD and DVD recording technology because it's stable and inexpensive. At the same time, the small data storage capacity of CDs makes them somewhat less useful compared with the much larger capacity of DVDs.

Data Storage and Backup Applications

As computer systems and their associated applications grow, demands on data storage also increase proportionally. Five years ago, a hard drive of two gigabytes might have been sufficient for most office applications. Today, 20 gigabytes is probably closer to the norm.

One reason is that individual application files keep getting larger and larger. Data is no longer restricted to simple text or numerical form, but encompasses multimedia and high-quality image processing. A single PowerPoint presentation, for instance, may include embedded audio, pictures, or even video clips, resulting in a file size that exceeds one gigabyte!

Currently, erasable optical storage is too slow to be used as a computer's main storage facility, but as the speed improves and the cost comes down, CD-RW and DVD-RW devices are becoming a popular alternative to tape systems as a backup method. One important advantage in this age of the "mobile knowledge worker" is that CD and DVD burners provide individualized backup of standalone computers, including notebooks, whenever and wherever you want it.

Sometimes people simply need to take work home from the office-or maybe they telecommute regularly from home. Most people don't have magnetic tape or magnetic disc drives built into their home PC, and the floppy disk's miniscule capacity renders it obsolete. CD/DVD is the only removable media with sufficient capacity that works at both home and office.

Optical media is also perfect for storing archives of critical corporate data, such as financials or personnel records. Just consider the average predicted lifespan of various data storage media, and then ask yourself which one you would use to preserve your most precious family pictures:

* Magnetic Discs -- 1 to 5 years

* Magnetic Hard drives -- 3 to 6 years

* Magnetic Tape -- 10 to 20 years

* Recordable CD -- 30+ years

* Recordable DVD -- 70+ years.

Customer and Corporate Communications

CD/DVD is easy and cheap updateable publishing media for enterprises. This makes optical media very useful in a broad range of both internal and external communications applications. For example, a sales force wants to present a digital brochure to customers. The brochure includes interactive presentations with rich multimedia content that people can navigate and view at their own pace. Only a CD/DVD can provide the storage capacity and the universal playability required for this application.

Other examples of communications applications include menu-driven annual reports for shareholders; interactive workforce and management training; distributing large amounts of updateable documentation such as product catalogs; and distributing software, training videos, etc.

Recordable CDs and DVDs make all of these applications much easier and less expensive to distribute than paper, video, or any other data storage medium. CD/DVD is even less expensive to mail than videotape; and video on CD/DVD does not rapidly deteriorate in quality, unlike videotape.


CD-RW is rapidly becoming the de facto standard for removable data storage on both consumer and corporate PCs. As CD technology dovetails into future DVD technology, recordable optical storage continues to provide real value to corporate IT departments. The value of this technology will only grow as the data storage capacities of discs get bigger and the data transfer rates of drives get faster.

In early 2002, the DVD Forum's Steering Committee announced their support for a blue laser successor to the original DVD format: the "Blu-ray Disc" format. The DVD Forum itself voted to approve the use of a completely different low-bit-rate compression technology for High-Definition DVD (HD-DVD).

Whatever the outcome of this latest industry standards face-off, we do know that the current generation of DVD technology uses a red laser to achieve a 4.7GB capacity (single-layer disc), while next generation HD-DVD will use a blue-violet laser to achieve capacities of 27GB (single-layer disc) up to 50GB (dual-layer disc). This dramatic increase in capacity promises to fuel future demand for optical data storage products in the enterprise.

Howard Wing is vice president of sales and marketing for Plextor Corp. (Fremont, Calif.)
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Article Details
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Author:Wing, Howard
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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