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The great data round-up.


A decade ago, 20-megabyte hard drives were used in mainframe computer systems as a mass storage device. They were the size of a washing machine, needed to be water cooled, and sounded like a freight train.

Today, it's commonplace for personal computers to have 40-megabyte internal hard drives that take up about no more space than a stack of pancakes. A 40-megabyte drive can hold the equivalent of 40,000 typewritten pages of information.

Ironically, that's often not enough for many desktop publishers. What may have seemed a vast and limitless place to store one's files has now become a crowded, cluttered irritation. One of the most pressing challenges for today's corporate communicator is finding a simple, easy, organized way of storing computer files.

To further complicate matters, there are several kinds of storage needs. First, there is on-line storage for the user's day-to-day work. Then comes backup, the important and often neglected task of storing copies of current files to avoid the heartache of losing work in progress. And finally, computer users need a convenient way of archiving completed projects for future reference.

Hard Drives Are Standard Equipment

Gone are the days when all one needed was one or two 5-1/4- or 3-1/2- inch floppy drives and a handful of disks to work on and store word processing or database files. Today, almost all users of Macintosh or PC-based systems use hard drives with storage capability of 20 to 80 megabytes for day-to-day work, using floppy disks for transporting, backup and archiving.

DeVon Sumbrennan, technical communicator for Valtek Incorporated in Springville, Utah, uses a PC with an 80-megabyte hard drive for word processing and desktop publishing.

"I rough everything out on the hard drive, and then we save everything on floppies so we can transfer the data to our graphic artist, who uses a Mac," says Sumbrennan. Because work in progress is transferred from machine to machine, it's important to maintain an organized tracking system. "Keep organized to find it later," he advises. "It's a bummer to have to type in the data again, especially if it's pages and pages of numbers. . . . You have to be conscientious to record what is on each disk."

Simple Storage Solutions

Simple advice, but how many of us take a systematic approach to storing files on floppies? Linnea Dayton, managing editor of Step-By-Step Electronic Design, a newsletter for desktop publishers, says the standard floppy is still the medium of choice for file storage. "It's inexpensive, durable and compact."

Dayton also stresses the importance of organization, and recommends a numerical system for keeping track of files. Disks are numbered as they are filled up, and stored in numerical order with a listing of files written on the outside of each disk. To make life easy, critical information about the files on each disk is keyed into a word processing or database program with sorting and searching capabilities. In addition to the disk number and file names, key words are also included that might help find the job if the file name is forgotten. To find an archived job, Dayton uses the search function to locate the information she needs, and then it's a simple matter to find the numbered disk.

Floppy disks may indeed be the simplest and most economical form of file storage, but publications created using desktop publishing software often take up more room than a regular disk will hold. One solution is to use compression software, which condenses the data and can split it into disk-sized pieces. TIFF format scanned images, which can take up enormous amounts of disk space, can be reduced in size by as much as 90 percent using programs such as Stuffit Deluxe for the Macintosh and ARC for PCs. Data compression software can be found on most on-line bulletin boards and through many software dealers, and usually costs less than US $50.

The New Hardware Solution

The other solution is to buy new data storage hardware, which comes in a mind-boggling number of formats, including tape backup systems, high-capacity removable disks, WORM (Write Once, Read Many) drives and erasable optical drives.

Lisa Snyder-Stone, communication coordinator for the Kaiser Permanente medical group in Oakland, Calif., has used an Apple tape backup system with her Macintosh using magnetic tape cartridges that each hold up to 40 megabytes of data.

"To keep large documents for longterm storage or even for backup takes a whole lot of diskettes, where instead I can put it all on one tape," says Snyder-Stone. "If you're using diskettes, every three minutes you have to put in another one. With a tape system, you can start the backup, go for lunch, make a few phone calls or do something else."

She says the purchase of hardware to save time is well worth the cost. "Most equipment is much cheaper than a professional's time. It isn't necessary for everyone doing four-page newsletters, but for people who work with large documents, some high-speed, high-capacity backup is essential. It just doesn't make any sense to do anything else."

Floyd Walker, ABC, administrator of community relations and media services for Allied Signal Aerospace Company in Kansas City, Mo., uses a Bernoulli Box cartridge backup system with his IBM-based desktop publishing system. The Bernoulli cartridges he uses each hold 10 megabytes of data, but Iomega, maker of the hardware, is now marketing systems with cartridges that hold 44 megabytes each. Bernoulli Boxes are available for Macintosh and IBM computers, and a dual-drive, 44-megabyte system costs about US $2,800. And, unlike tape drives, which are notoriously slow, the Bernoulli rivals regular hard drives for data access speed.

"The only time you care about your storage capacity is when you get it full," says Walker. "When the Bernoulli gets full, you just put in another cartridge." (Cartridges cost less than US $100 per 10 megabytes.) Walker uses his 40-megabyte hard drive for current work, and stores older files he needs to keep on the cartridges. Benefits brochures and other reports issued to employees each year are perfect examples of publications that can easily be

stored for future use. "We also find we have stuff that will be in preparation for a long time, or that will take a long time for approval. We'll store those in the Bernoulli."

Ravi Bakshi, president of Bakshi Consulting Inc. in Edmonton, Alta., has a luxurious collection of hardware, including five Macintosh IIfx computers (the latest and fastest Macs on the market), each equipped with 160-megabyte internal hard drives. Bakshi's company needs the space: It produces business presentations that often use color scans, which can take up more than 10 megabytes of memory for just one image. The fx computers are connected using Appleshare on a central file server with a 300-megabyte hard disk.

The server is used by everyone on the network for daily backup of work in progress and a weekly backup of all files. Every month, a mirror image of each drive is created on an Apple tape backup system.

"In this kind of business, you don't like to throw away anything," says Bakshi, who archives all completed client work on Syquest removable 45 megabyte cartridges. Syquest drives are available for Macintoshes and PCs and retail for between US $1,000 and $2,000, depending on the manufacturer. Cartridges cost about $100. Bakshi chose Syquest because it is quickly becoming an industry standard. If he has to travel, the drives are easy to rent in other cities, and many of his clients also use Syquest systems.

Future Directions

When it comes to storing huge amounts of data, WORM and erasable optical drives are the up-and-coming champions. WORM drives can store up to 800 megabytes on one disk, and are nearly indestructible. But because they cannot be erased, once something is stored, it can only be retrieved. In some applications, such as storing medical or financial information, this is an asset. But for desktop publishers, WORM drives are impractical and expensive.

The brightest light on the data storage horizon is the erasable optical drive, which can hold up to 650 megabytes on one disk. Current models are about three times slower than conventional hard disks, which makes them impractical for day-to-day work, and they cost many times more than other removable systems. But, as prices come down and speed and capacity are increased, desktop publishers may soon be talking in gigabytes (a gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes).

A few words to the wise: The storage media described in this article are the most popular options available, but they are by no means the only ones. There are scores of tape backup systems, removable cartridges and other storage systems on the market. When you shop, look for products by companies with solid reputations who offer extensive documentation and warranties. There's nothing worse than purchasing a system that can't be serviced because its manufacturer goes under--a common occurrence in the high-tech world. As Ravi Bakshi puts it, "There's real comfort going with a big name."

Ron Shewchuk is a communication consultant in Calgary, Alta., Canada.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related article on The Gap Inc.; desktop publishing
Author:Shewchuk, Ron
Publication:Communication World
Date:Nov 1, 1990
Previous Article:Pushing back the desktop frontier: the desk was won!
Next Article:Desktop prepress: opening new territories.

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