Optical vendors not worried about NFR

Optical vendors not worried about NFR

By Zachary Shess

In an unofficial sampling taken at Fall Comdex, optical storage vendors said they were not concerned about their future market share being diminished by near-field recording (NFR) technology. However, among those optical vendors familiar with NFR, some believe the concept of using removable 10GB and 20GB 5.25-inch drives shows potential.

NFR produces significant increases in areal density (bits per

square inch) by combining elements of optical and magnetic recording technologies. NFR uses a laser to pre-heat the surface of the recording media, making it more receptive to the application of a magnetic charge. "Near field" refers to the closer head-to-media distances than those used in "far-field" recording. NFR systems position the recording head at less than a laser wavelength (six microns) from the disk surface.

Despite NFR`s promise, shipment delays from the San Jose-based TeraStor and the initial single source for drives have created doubt and eroded credibility. In addition, TeraStor has yet to set final pricing. "TeraStor has to do much more with pricing," says James McCaffrey, vice president of sales and marketing for Mitsumi Electronics, an optical vendor in Irving, TX. "It doesn`t look like NFR will be a mass market product for some time."

If pricing drops like most storage technologies and market acceptance does occur, industry analysts such as Dataquest`s Mary Bourdon believe NFR drives could supplant tape and optical drives in some areas.

"NFR could have an immediate impact on tape in server backup applications. Optical just isn`t in the backup game, but tape is and those users need a lot of storage capacity and performance," Bourdon says.

Some optical vendors agree. For example, Gordon Thayer, research and development program manager with Hewlett-Packard`s Storage Systems Division in Greeley, CO, believes 20GB NFR drives could signal the demise of 5.25-inch magneto-optical (MO) drives as well as some tape technologies.

"HP studied this quite a bit and found the original 20GB specification was very attractive in two areas. One was in direct competition with 5.25-inch MO. That was definitely considered a threat to our existing business," says Thayer. "However, we have 9.2GB products coming in the year 2000, so we aren`t really considering the 10GB NFR drive as much of a threat," continues Thayer. "We`re not considering NFR until it`s 20GB or higher, and we don`t anticipate this happening for a couple of years."

Thayer acknowledges that the other potential marketplace for NFR will be in the enterprise server backup segment. "Its viability there is totally dependent on performance and what the drive and media costs turn out to be. If TeraStor delivers on their drive and media price, then the high-end DDS and low-end DLT tape markets could be affected." (Imation, Maxell, and Tosoh plan to manufacture NFR cartridges.)

"NFR has the potential of being a 5.25-inch optical drive killer because that form factor can`t keep up with NFR`s capacity," says Bourdon, "but the longer NFR is delayed, there will still be room for 5.25-inch MO."

From an application standpoint, Bourdon sees NFR moving into optical storage areas where terabytes of removable storage are needed, but optimum speed is not, such as optical library applications.

One optical jukebox vendor--Plasmon, in Eden Prairie, MN--has no immediate plans to incorporate NFR drives.

Jukebox/library vendors that have committed to supporting NFR include ATL Products (Irvine, CA), DISC Inc. (Milpitas, CA), Exabyte (Boulder, CO), and Spectra Logic (Boulder, CO).

This article was originally published on January 01, 1999