Challengers target standard floppies

Posted on August 01, 1999

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Challengers target standard floppies

Continuing capacity demands inspire a variety of media and formats in removable disk market.

Mark Ferelli

As storage capacity demands besiege IT managers in applications ranging from enterprise resource planning to multimedia text and image files, removable storage in its variety of options comes into focus. Shipments of all types of removable disk drives will exceed 140 million units this year, representing about $2.75 billion in factory revenues. This includes low-capacity and high-capacity flexible drives as well as rigid disk cartridge drives (although cartridge drives account for only about 1% of total shipments).

A significant, yet often overlooked, portion of the expanding storage capacity is on desktops that are not effectively served by network-centric storage devices. A recent report from International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, MA, shows that for every 1GB of data centralized at corporate headquarters, 2GB is scattered in departments, and even more capacity is spread out on PCs and laptops.

Most of that scattered data is stored on low-capacity 1.44MB floppy drives, which are still found in the overwhelming majority of desktop systems. Low-capacity floppy drives accounted for 89% of total removable disk drive shipments in 1998.

The 1.44MB capacity point is sufficient for most word processing and spreadsheet files. However, the increasing use of graphics and images in enterprise data files is spurring momentum toward higher-capacity removable disks.

One high-capacity challenger to the venerable 1.44MB diskette is Imation`s 120MB SuperDisk. These drives are backward-compatible with 1.44MB diskettes. The line was expanded at this year`s PC Expo, and now includes the SuperDisk USB Drive for the Apple iMac, SuperDisk Parallel Port Drive, and SuperDisk Diskette, which is available with Secured Encryption Technology. These drives are also offered as standard or optional internal equipment in new desktop and notebook computers from more than 100 OEMs. The earliest iteration of SuperDisk was criticized for its slow read speed; however, the new models boast a much faster read rate-up to 27 times faster than conventional floppies.

HiFD delayed

Another high-capacity flexible media is the 200MB HiFD diskette, announced by Sony and FujiFilm. But general availability of HiFD has been delayed.

According to one official statement, "Sony is committed to delivering HiFD products and we regret any inconvenience this extended delay has caused. HiFD is a viable technology with a unique combination of advantages, including backward compatibility with floppy disks, high capacity, fast transfer rate, and the ability to playback full-motion MPEG video."

But there are rumors that Sony may abandon HiFD. The problem has not been with the media, but with the head-to-media interface: developing an interface to write to low capacity and high capacity media using a single head is not a trivial task. In spite of the rumor that HiFD may be abandoned, Sony`s official word is that HiFD is still in development, and could be re-launched this fall.

Zip rules

The real winners in removable storage continue to be Iomega`s Zip and Jaz drives. (Zip is a flexible disk, while Jaz is a rigid disk cartridge format.) With the departure of competitors such as SyQuest and Avatar, many IT departments are standardizing on Iomega`s drives. In fact, shipments of Zip drives have surpassed 22 million units, according to Dataquest, a market research firm in San Jose.

Iomega recently announced an internal ATAPI 250MB Zip drive, an extension to the popular line of 100MB Zip drives and disks. The 250MB drive uses new disks, but also reads and writes to 100MB Zip disks. The drive fits into a conventional PC drive bay, connects to an internal power supply, and includes a suite of value-added software applications. (For more information on Zip and Jaz, see the Analyst View column in this issue.)

Analysts expect Iomega to control the 200MB+ space for the foreseeable future. However, one potential challenger to Iomega is Castlewood Systems (Pleasanton, CA). Founded by Syed Iftikar (the original founder of SyQuest), Castlewood is now shipping its ORB product into distribution channels. ORB uses 3.5-inch 2.2GB removable media--more capacity than any other product in its category. Additionally, it boasts a 12.2MBps maximum sustained data transfer rate.

ORB disks are expected to serve a variety of applications that require the storage of large amounts of data, including content editing and authoring, CAD/CAM, graphic design, publishing, and multimedia presentations. Castlewood is also providing ORB Tools, a software suite that enables cartridge copy, file copy, disk copy, write protect, media status reporting, and other functions. Castlewood uses a "headerless ID" design that is said to eliminate the need for disk formatting.

The competition between Iomega and Castlewood goes beyond the marketplace. At press time, Iomega had filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, charging Castlewood with patent infringement, trademark infringement, and unfair competition. Iomega is seeking monetary damages as well as an injunction to prevent Castlewood`s alleged unauthorized use of registered trademarks and the selling of products that embody patented inventions.

Other newcomers to the high-capacity removable disk market include UHD, from Caleb and Samsung, and Swan`s UHC. But these vendors will face a formidable challenge in trying to break into the OEM market. The reliability, performance, and price points of currently shipping products will create increasing resistance to new formats. Achieving a breakthrough will require a significant value proposition that is not available from the market leaders.


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