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CD Storage, Part Two

This article appears in the issue March 1998 [Volume 7, Issue 4]

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Although Meridian Data's (Scotts Valley, CA) CD IntraNet was announced 18 months ago, it has not achieved the visibility its innovative approach to integrating CD and Web-based information warrants.

Robert Wise, Meridian's director of product development, attributes the product's relatively slow start to the fact that intranets themselves are still in the early stages of implementation. Those companies that have implemented intranets--which include many Fortune 100 companies--were trying to provide seamless access to both their HTML-based material and the CD information, 95% of which is not in HTML format.

In the past, the options were limited to converting the information to HTML or exiting from the browser and launching the CD application. With CD IntraNet, users can click on hyperlinks right from their browser to access the CDs. The product works by launching, from the Web browser, those components of Windows necessary to run Windows applications.

Some useful features of IntraNet include the ability to map, customize and control access to CD titles by individual user or workgroup. The product works with existing security controls and firewalls set up on the network that control access. In addition, CD usage can be metered for compliance with licensing limitations. One drawback from a CD-R viewpoint is that CD recording is not integrated into the product. Meridian produces a netware loadable module that allows recording from the desktop, however, to provide recording capability, and is considering other approaches as well.

The CD IntraNet server is configured with 56 CD-ROM drives (or more, with additional servers), the CD Net CD-ROM networking software, and other software components. CD IntraNet runs under Windows NT and can handle clients with Windows NT, Windows for Workgroups and Windows 95. Version 4.0 of Meridian's CD Net will incorporate CD IntraNet technologies. CD Net 4.0 is priced at $1,495, and the jukebox management option is an additional $1,995.

CD storage applications

Legal applications continue to be popular for CD storage, both in terms of providing reference materials and for organizing case-related information generated by law firms. For example, at Hinman, Howard and Kattell (Binghamton, NY), 100 networked PCs serve its law library, which contains legal reports and statutes. They are held in an NSM Mercury 40 jukebox, and the firm is considering eliminating the hard copies stored in three large rooms. The firm's information systems manager testifies to the savings in storage space and search time provided by online capability. Supported by Logicraft's (Nashua, NH) LAN CD, the system has been in place for several years.

Management of litigation support files is another ideal application for CD technology. Because a single litigation case typically involves 1 million pages of evidence, depositions and other documents, specialized services have sprung up to provide document management for litigation, including organizing and storing information, searching, retrieving and distributing information.

Document Repository Inc. (DRI, San Francisco) uses an NSM (Bensenville, IL) jukebox and Smart Storage (Andover, MA) software to accomplish that task. Documents are imaged and stored on CD-R, holding 10,000 to 15,000 image documents (or a million pages of text). That process reduces 1.5 million pages to approximately 150 CDs. DRI has five NSM jukeboxes in three offices and has found the system to be cost- and time-effective.

Storage of medical reference materials in libraries and hospitals is another typical application of CD technology that focuses on CD-ROM, but other medical applications involving records management are likely to expand over the next few years as CD-R technology becomes easier to implement. In the same way that financial records such as check images and billing information have been stored on CD using CD-R technology, medical records--including image data--are migrating to CDs.

Government applications continue to be a viable market for both reference applications and data storage. Typical examples include the U.S. Patent Office, which makes patent records available on a combination of jukeboxes and towers, and the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Navy, which routinely use CDs for storage.

Another type of imaging information suitable for CDs is public records. In some localities, land data have been scanned and stored on CDs by commercial organizations and sold to attorneys who are processing real estate transactions.

And finally, the education market is thriving. Scott Fast, senior product manager at MDI (Winter Park, FL), reports that the company's 12x family of towers (a relatively slow speed for a tower drive) is popular for educational applications. "Many educational and training discs have digital video," he said, "and a 12x tower can be an economical and effective solution."

Performance factors

Jukebox and tower performance are often misunderstood, because overall performance depends on a number of factors that interact. Key performance measures are: media exchange time (how long the robotics take to fetch a disc and put it in the drive); queueing time (how long the drive takes to spin up the disc, read the table of contents, and find the file); data transfer rate (how fast the data is read off the drive, which is a function of drive speed).

For towers, the robotics measure is not relevant because the discs are always online, but the other two factors apply.

File size also affects performance and is one of the factors that interacts with the others, such as drive speed, in sometimes surprising ways. As an example, a fast jukebox retrieves a disc in 2.5 seconds and places it in the CD-ROM reader. The drive then spins up. A 4x drive takes 2.5 seconds, and the data is ready to be accessed. For a 24x drive, the spin-up time is 6.5 seconds. If the file is relatively small, having a higher data transfer rate does not compensate for the longer spin up time of the drive. Only when the file size reaches 12 MB does a 24x drive reach a breakeven point.

Queueing time is considerably longer for single-session CD-Rs than for CD-ROM discs, and even longer for multisession CD-Rs.

Elements outside the CD system that affect performance include the network capability and the number of users accessing the information. Either can have a far greater impact on the time a user waits for information than the robotics and the drive speed.

Several approaches have been developed to address those issues. One is caching, which puts the most frequently used data onto a local hard drive, or read-ahead caching, which brings in the next logical piece of data before it is requested. Some software products also support the transfer of the entire CD image to a hard drive. That solution has some pros and cons; the speed is high, but once the data is on a hard drive, it is subject to alteration, unlike that on a CD.

Another approach to speeding data access is turbo TDD (time to deliver data), introduced by NSM. Turbo TDD initializes each disc in advance, thus reducing the queue time to just a few milliseconds. The result is a substantial improvement in performance of up to 70% for applications in which file sizes are small. All NSM Satellite models and all Mercury models containing Plextor 12x reader drives support the turbo TDD feature. Smart Storage's SmartCD for Access (Version 2.5), Ixos' (San Mateo, CA) Jukeman, MDI's SCSI Express, Point Software's (Siegen, Germany) Jukebox Manager, and Astarte's (Karlsruhe, Germany) Miles Apart either support turbo TDD already or will in the near future.

Although drive speed alone does not always improve performance, a compelling reason for upgrading is exemplified by MDI's towers, which use Pioneer's (Long Beach, CA) 24x drives. The Pioneer drives are MultiRead, allowing them to read CD-Rewritable (CD-RW) discs. MultiRead capability is a potentially important performance issue in terms of future flexibility.

DVD implementation

All of the firms that participate in the CD storage industry are gearing up for DVD in one way or another. Some, such as MDI and Procom (Irvine, CA), have already incorporated DVD-ROM drives into their towers. Others are awaiting further developments on the software side and resolution of DVD standards. Plasmon's (Eden Prairie, MN) Margaret Hamburger said that Plasmon believes DVD-RAM to be the best option for automated library storage. But she added, "The DVD picture is still evolving, and we will pursue what the market demands."

One obstacle to widespread use of DVD-ROM drives--the inability to read CD-R discs--has been overcome in the second generation of those drives. Now, manufacturers such as Sony (San Jose) and Hitachi (Brisbane, CA) have dual laser systems that allow CD-R discs to be read along with CD-ROM and DVD-ROM discs. Given the wide acceptance and use of CD-R discs, a drive that did not read them was destined for failure, so it is fortunate that this obstacle was overcome relatively quickly.

Jukebox manufacturers have come up with a variety of solutions to answer the "Should I wait for DVD?" question. A promising one is Pioneer's offer to upgrade CD-ROM drives to DVD-ROM drives at a nominal cost. If consumers view DVD as the next step for CD technology--rather than as a competing technology--the transition will seem much easier.

Pioneer believes that the market for DVD is going to be heavily dependent on DVD-R because recording capability is essential for imaging and archiving applications. Said Pioneer's Paul Meyhoefer, mass storage senior sales manager, "We are aggressively pursuing the development of DVD-R and plan to introduce a standalone recorder in the first quarter of 1998, priced at $17,000 including authoring software."

Meyhoefer estimates that when the price of DVD-R drops into the $3,000 to $5,000 range, incorporation into jukeboxes will become a viable alternative.

"Every new digital technology places new demands on digital storage," says Smart Storage President Gary Brach.

NSM's David Ooley, VP of sales and marketing said, "The industry needs to communicate how this technology can benefit the knowledge management industry and help make it happen without a struggle."

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