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Enhanced capability and competition drive market: CD storage technology (Part one)

The past year has brought a new level of sophistication and more product features to the CD storage technology industry. It has also brought increased competition among established firms and new entrants alike. Among the most notable developments are:

* New hardware features

Features such as mail slots and disc magazines or packs that allow barcoding, which were innovative a year ago and tended to be introduced by firms new in the market, have been incorporated into many of the established products.

* Lower prices

Jukeboxes and towers formerly affordable only by large corporations or institutions are now priced within reach of smaller businesses. Larger volume sales, lower drive prices and heavy competition are contributing to this trend. New entry-level products are being offered at surprisingly low prices.

* Growing market for CD-R

Although an estimated 85% of CD storage consists of information published on CD-ROMs vs. 15% on CD-R, the industry is moving toward increased use of CD-R for applications such as imaging and archiving. Jukeboxes and disc management software products that had not previously incorporated CD-R capability have, for the most part, done so or plan to soon.

* More software capability

A few years ago, each jukebox or tower was supported by only one or two disc management or recording packages, often in a bundle; now most hardware products are supported by a wide range of software products. Software techniques such as "read-ahead" caching and storing an entire CD image on a hard drive have improved jukebox performance so that numbers of 50x or above are being touted.

* Increased drive speeds, more hot swapping

Drive speeds for towers generally start at 8x to 12x or more, and jukebox drive speeds are also higher. Some of the pressure for higher speeds is hype--higher speeds don't always mean better performance. Hot-swappable drives are appealing because users can easily upgrade or replace drives.

* DVD transition

CD storage technology manufacturers are all preparing for a transition to DVD, but in different ways. Some offer DVD-ROM drives now, and others are waiting for formats to stabilize. Operating systems do not yet have the ability to handle files in uniform disc format (UDF), so discs used in DVD-ROM drives must comply with ISO 9660 or be interpreted so they appear to comply with that standard. The transition will take place over a number of years and will be more of a challenge for software manufacturers than for hardware manufacturers.

The fight for market share

Market leader NSM (Bensenville, IL) continues to dominate the jukebox field, with 63% of the total units shipped worldwide in 1996, according to Dataquest (San Jose). A surprising second is Kubik Enterprises (San Jose), with 14% and third is Pioneer (Long Beach, CA), with 10%. The balance of the market is shared by a group of companies that compete intensely for the remaining business. "A number of new firms entered the field in response to various optimistic market projections," said Mary Bourdon, principal analyst at Dataquest, "and not all of them will survive." Although Dataquest's prediction of a 49% growth rate for 1997 vs. 1996 is also enticing enough to draw a crowd, it is more conservative than the doubling of the market that some had predicted.

NSM's line of jukeboxes is sold both under its own name and to companies such as MDI (Winter Park, FL) that relabel the products. The Mercury, which can hold 150 discs, is priced at around $13,000 and has been the workhorse for NSM. The Satellite, introduced in April 1997, is also proving to be a success. Priced at around $10,000, it has a capacity of 60 to 105 discs and a modular design that allows various combinations of readers, recorders, drives, packs and a mail slot. The ratio of drives to discs can be as high as 12 to one.

Kubik Enterprises sells a 240-disc unit with a horizontal carousel design. Kubik's jukebox carved a place in the market through its use in submarines and other military vessels. Another large user was University Microfilm Inc. (UMI, Ann Arbor, MI), which has installed about 2,000 units in public libraries. Thus, although Kubik has not been highly visible compared to other firms, it has a well-entrenched product. Commercial clients include Coca Cola, Greyhound and, recently, Kia Information Systems, a Korean firm. The price for a unit configured with one writer and three readers is $12,000.

Pioneer, which sells a 100- and a 500-disc jukebox, manufactures both its own robotics and drives, and has a very strong position in the 500-disc category. The 100-disc model is priced at $9,000 to $10,000 and the 500-disc unit at $16,000 to $24,000, depending on drive configuration. Pioneer offers a warranty that includes a full year of free on-site service, and is pursuing markets for jukeboxes as duplicating devices and DVD servers, among other imaging and archiving applications.

New hardware in the market

Despite the competition, firms find CD storage a sufficiently attractive market to warrant jumping in. For example, in 1997 JVC (Cypress, CA) began offering a line of 100-, 200- and 600-disc capacity jukeboxes ranging in price from just under $9,000 to $14,000. The jukeboxes were designed from scratch rather than modified from those used in audio applications and are intended for 24-hour network service. The 100-disc unit is the newest, and is bundled with Ixos (Germany, with U.S. headquarters in San Mateo, CA) or Smart Storage (Andover, MA) software. "We are competing on features, service and reliability," said JVC's Richard Young.

The JVC units can hold up to six drives (customized Teac drives) vs. an industry standard of four. Special diagnostics are built into the unit and a unique service allows the jukebox to be connected to a modem so that an MIS director or technical service staff can diagnose problems remotely. All the jukeboxes have interchangeable parts, and JVC claims that any service takes no longer than 15 minutes. The two-year warranty and 90-day free field service exceed industry norms also.

Young is optimistic about the future of CD storage. He likens CDs to VCR technology, with its broad acceptance and universal adoption. "All new technologies, including DVD, attract a lot of attention, but when the fanfare is over, today's needs are still here," he said. JVC is tracking DVD technology and monitoring customers' needs in order to be ready when the market evolves. Young sees the corporate market with its high data storage requirements as one of the most promising. "Companies will make more CDs than they will ever buy," he said.

More low-end options

Last year several firms introduced low-end systems that brought jukebox technology within the reach of many firms that had not previously considered it. Now virtually all the market leaders are offering competitively priced units in the $5,000 range, or even less. NSM's CDR 100 family of jukeboxes, for example, holds 100 discs in two 50-disc magazines. It has one read or read/write drive (a Teac 16x or a Yamaha 4x/4x) and is supported by a wide selection of jukebox management and recording packages, including those from Celerity (Knoxville, TN), Ixos, MDI, Ornetix (San Jose) and Smart Storage.

Kubik is also offering an entry level product; its DataVault, which has the same carousel design as the original unit, holds 240 discs and has one read/write drive, at a price of under $5,000. Sony has entered the low-end market with a unit priced at about $3,000 that is designed for the small office/home office (SOHO) market.

Meridian Data (Scotts Valley, CA) has introduced a line of towers called the Universal series. A seven-bay tower is $3,195 and a 14-bay tower is $3,975. Prices include CDNet Universal software. Designed to be plug and play, the units do not have the CPU and hard drive that Meridian's higher end 900 series incorporates.

Another low-end alternative for CD storage is provided by minichangers. Typically holding four to six discs, they can be a cost-effective solution for users who do not need to have large numbers of discs on line. For example, Pioneer sells a six-disc changer for $495. It makes sense to daisy chain up to about four of those, after which a low-end jukebox becomes a better alternative.

Software leaders

In jukebox recording, Smart Storage, Ixos, OTG (Bethesda, MD), and Celerity are among the leaders. Each of those products manages discs and records them. MDI's SCSI Express is a well-established CD management product, as is Ornetix's D-Vision/CD-Commander product. MDI plans to add recording capability to its product line and is currently adding file system components to support packet writing and cross-operating system interoperability. Tracer (Gaithersburg, MD) and Young Minds (Redlands, CA) are among a relatively small group of products that support CD management and recording in the Unix environment. The majority of CD management products began by supporting Novell and have moved toward Windows NT.

Smart Storage's latest version of Smart CD, which was released in February, offers a number of improvements over its well-established predecessor, including Express Cache and automated recording features. Express Cache complements SmartCD's existing cache options and allows entire CDs to be moved to hard disc, providing faster access to data. The new automated recording features, including polling and watermarking, allow administrators to automate the production of CDs. Another new product, Smart CD for Duplication, is designed to manage the production of multiple copies of CDs. It will support a wide range of jukeboxes, autoloaders and CD towers. A new version of SmartCD, to be released in May, will incorporate UDF and variable packet writing for more mainstream data storage applications.

Ixos' Jukeman, an increasingly popular choice for managing and recording discs, has a simple installation procedure and a drag-and-drop recording interface. Its statistical information feature allows administrators to identify the discs that are being accessed most frequently and adjust the placement of discs in the jukebox to optimize performance. The product places a lot of emphasis on fault tolerance, redundancy and disaster recovery, and has had packet-writing capability for two years. It has been widely accepted in the market.

Ixos' Lynn Hogg, director of Jukeman Sales and Marketing, sees rapid growth for CD recording and management. "One of the key issues in enterprise information management is how to automate the archival of E-mails," Hogg said. "Delivery of audio over the Internet is another growing application. All this information, in order to be useful, must be indexed and easily retrievable."

Look for a continuation of this article in an upcoming issue. Part two will include CD storage applications, performance factors, DVD implementation and the future of CD/DVD storage. *

Judith Lamont is director of research at the Special Interest Group for CD Applications and Technologies (SIGCAT) Foundation, 703-435-5200,
E-mail 74602.3417@compuserve.com.

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