Long Live CDs!

Long Live CDs!

By Jun Tsuchiya

With the unveiling of each new storage technology, industry "prophets" predict the early demise of current technologies. While everyone agrees that rewritable DVD drives will eventually have a tremendous impact on the storage market, many feel that because the standards were established before rewritable DVD products became available, sales of CD-RW drives will be enhanced, rather than flattened.

The rewritable DVD standards specify that compliant drives must provide read compatibility with CD-ROM, CD-Audio, CD-R, and CD-RW media. CD-ReWritable has, in fact, been called a "bridge" technology to tomorrow`s promise of rewritable DVD. However, for most system manufacturers, integrators, resellers, and users, it will probably be a very long bridge.

In most instances, customers don`t care about technology. They want to know the results that can be achievedºnow. CD technology, which has been carving an ever-widening niche in the storage industry since 1982, provides the solutions users need today and the assurance that when rewritable DVD becomes widely available, their storage investments will be protected.

The demand for distribution of large data and image files at a lower cost drove the switch from floppies and other storage media to low-cost CD-R (write-once) media. Initially, read-only was considered a major drawback for CD technology, but many applications--such as distributing databases, catalogs and software--require a storage solution that cannot be altered. Because CDs are also inherently rugged and are not affected by stray magnetic fields, they`re ideal for these applications and a host of other information requiring reliable, high-capacity storage.

When CD-RW drives and media became available last year, businesses discovered they had a single solution for short-term and long-term storage requirements. These versatile drives are multifunction storage devices, that is, they read and write to CD-R and CD-RW media and read CD-ROMs. Work in progress, backups, and other information that may need to be altered can be stored on 650MB CD-RW media for more than 30 years at a storage cost of about 4 cents per MB. Using CD-R media, which has a data life of 100 years, you can archive files or copy data for distribution at a storage cost of less than 1 cent per MB.

Global standards are in place for CD-ReWritable to ensure that all compatible recorders and readers can interchange media. Data stored on CD-RW media can be read on all CD-ROM and on DVD-ROM readers that are Multi-Read compatible.

In addition, the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA) established a logical interchange standard so that packet writing is now part of the standard. With the new Multi-Read certification program, consumers can quickly determine if the CD-ROM drive or player they plan to purchase is CD-RW and UDF compatible.

Well-established standards have also paved the way for software developers to offer a wide range of applications that simplify CD-RW storage and retrieval, including new random erase technology. With this new capability, users can erase individual files just as though they were using a floppy disk or a hard drive.

Compatibility with the CD drives that are now a standard component in almost every computer system sold simplifies information exchange because the recipient doesn`t have to have a CD-RW/CD-R drive to read the disc. Almost 200 million CD drives have been installed worldwide, and growth in the installed base shows no sign of slowing.

Perceived vs. Real Value

CD-RW drives may never be as low-priced as some of the removable hard disk solutions on the market. However, what these proprietary storage solutions have clearly proven is that perceived savings far outweighs actual savings. While the media for 100MB drives is relatively expensive (about 15 cents per MB) the drive`s low initial cost has attracted millions of customers. The success of these products validates the notion that consumers will gladly pay more for the razor blades if the razor is cheap enough.

Offering significantly higher capacity and standards compliance, CD-RW drives are very competitively priced today. Economies of scale promise to deliver even lower-cost units in the near future. CD discs (write-once and rewritable) are already price-competitive, and they`re readily available from multiple suppliers.

The rewritable DVD drives that are expected to ship in limited quantities this year will provide even higher capacities (2.6GB to 5.2GB); however, drive costs will initially be high and therefore the perceived value will be low.

How Much Is Too Much?

While corporations and industry analysts talk of storage in the gigabyte, terabyte, and even petabyte range, in reality what most people require is a few hundred megabytes.

A CD-R disc will accomplish the task for $1 to $2, or if you need to be able to rewrite, a CD-RW disc costs about $15. In contrast, a 2.6GB single-sided DVD-RAM disc costs about $25--whether you use all of the capacity or not.

Each 650MB removable CD-RW or CD-R disc will store up to 2,780 full-screen, full-color images and more than 50,000 pages of text.

With removable media, organizations have unlimited capacity--when additional storage is needed or a new project is started, old discs can simply be replaced with new ones. The durability of optical media assures users that the discs can also be removed and safely shipped to business partners anywhere in the world, without losing data.

While debates over the best approach to rewritable DVD continue, both sides agree on one point: The drives will at least be able to read all of the documents, images, and data stored on the hundreds of millions of CDs that have been produced and will continue to be produced well past the year 2000.

In the highly competitive, information-dependent business world, few organizations or individuals will immediately throw out rewritable CD solutions simply because higher-capacity, higher-priced rewritable DVD products are suddenly available.

Analysts at International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, MA, apparently agree, because they estimate that worldwide sales of CD-RW units will exceed 23.6 million in 2001.

A number of factors will continue to stimulate CD-RW/CD-R sales into the next millennium. There will still be the need for low-cost distribution of software and mission-critical information on read-only discs--discs that almost anyone with a PC can read. There will still be people who prefer to archive projects and related files on separate discs. And there will still be organizations that want the convenience of the CD-RW/CD-R drive`s dual functionality.

For these applications and a host of others, people are making their purchasing decision based on established solutions that are available today...not a year or two from now.

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Jun Tsuchiya is vice president of sales & marketing at Verbatim Corp. in Charlotte, NC.

This article was originally published on July 01, 1998