Rebirth or last dance for MO?
By Zachary Shess
After 18 months of development, magneto-optical (MO) drive vendor Maxoptix last month demonstrated an MO drive incorporating its new Optical Super Density (OSD) technology. Officials anticipate overcoming capacity and price point barriers that have led to declining shipments of MO in recent years.
Beginning next year, Maxoptix plans to incorporate OSD technology into four product areas: a single-sided 20GB drive and double-sided 40GB drive; an autochanger capable of handling five 5.25-inch OSD MO drives; and an autochanger inside a jukebox.
"We believe OSD-based products will be able to compete with anything from a removable desktop drive all the way up to a network storage device, including backup and archive technologies," says Mitch Cipriano, vice president of sales and marketing at Maxoptix. "We intend to penetrate into the backup market initially. With 40GB on a single disk, we will be able to compete against DLT7000 and 8mm tape products."
Maxoptix officials acknowledge that the potential seen for MO five to seven years ago was not reached because the technology did not deliver enough capacity for cartridges to gain broad acceptance in diverse application areas. The lack of volume meant that prices, in comparison to other archival choices, did not fall low enough to be cost-competitive.
"We wanted to break away from that vicious circle by creating a product that has enough performance and capacity to allow us to enter traditional MO areas and into markets where other technologies are already providing solutions," says Dan Cautis, Maxoptix`s vice president of advanced technology.
OSD drives are designed to incorporate MO`s durability and reliability advantages, with added capacity and performance. The removable drives will offer 15MBps transfer rates. Like hard disk drives, OSD drives will have direct overwrite capabilities without taking the usual two passes across the media to read data. Cautis says this will also provide faster random access times to compete with tape products.
While Maxoptix anticipates a smooth transition for customers migrating to OSD MO drives and/or placing them in jukeboxes, the drives will not be backward compatible. Subsequently, development time is shortened, resulting in lower costs.
"One of the principal criticisms about MO technology is that the rate of advance has been too slow," says Ray Freeman, president of Freeman Associates, a Santa Barbara, CA-based research firm. "What I see Maxoptix doing is acknowledging that limitation and looking to leapfrog the restraints that have held the technology back in the past."
Sony Electronics also recently announced plans to ship 5.25-inch, 9.1GB MO drives and media next year. Backward compatible, they will nearly double existing 5.2GB drives and hold 14 times more data than the original 650MB MO drives and media.
While vendors and industry observers won`t speculate on MO`s fate, they firmly believe MO is filling particular needs and can move into new markets. According to Masataka Ogawa, director of business planning at Sony Electronics, MO has a loyal following that relies on it for their archival needs and reliability advantages over tape.