Sunday, October 4, 2009

End of Magneto Optical Storage

For three decades, Magneto Optical (MO) drives have been used to store and retrieve digital information randomly on removable, cartridge WORM and erasable optical disks. With the beginning of Oct 2009 came the official end of SONY MO drives. With little fanfare, SONY Electronics, the last MO drive manufacturer, ceased manufacturing of their last MO drive, the F551, a 5.2 GB Multi-Function (MF) optical drive.

This End of Life (EOL) was expected. Early in 2004, SONY announced that their magneto optical drive products were being replaced by their new Professional Disc for Data (PDD) optical drive, a blue laser based product with a disc capacity of 23 GB, only to announce the EOL of the PDD optical drive two years later as they shifted their focus to consumer Blu-Ray optical drives. With PDD dead, the only professional optical storage product SONY offered was MO. Then in early 2008, SONY announced the EOL for the F561 drive, a 9.1 GB MF optical drive, leaving SONY and its MO customer base with only one remaining MO drive, the F551. As of September 30, 2009, the F551 MO drive will no longer be manufactured.

Obviously, the MO drive market was not a huge market. In fact, it was a shrinking niche market given the explosion of hard disk drives with never-ending increasing capacities and shrinking prices. Simply stated, optical storage technology has not been able to keep pace with magnetic disk and tape technologies. With professional and consumer optical technologies currently limited to 60 GB or less per media, automated robotic libraries/jukeboxes are needed to boost optical storage system capacities. Despite these market obstacles, MO technology offered important features/benefits for the professional removal storage marketplace that existing magnetic and consumer optical technologies lack. In particular MO technology was an industry standard technology, ANSI/ISO, that offered robust and reliable storage with media life times rated at 50 years and drives that automatically verified and corrected write operations on-the-fly. These features, plus others, made it a good storage technology for archiving and compliance applications.

Currently, Alliance Storage Technologies (ASTI) Ultra Density Optical (UDO) storage technology is the only direct replacement product for the MO marketplace. Available in capacities of 30 GB (UDO1) and 60 GB (UDO2) per cartridge, both WORM and erasable, UDO has a larger capacity than MO and a significantly faster performance than MO. Unfortunately, UDO optical drives cannot read and/or write MO disks; but given an identical media cartridge form factor, single libraries with mixed UDO and MO media have been popular.

For further information on ASTI's UDO products, or ideas on how you can upgrade/migrate an existing MO/UDO storage system, please contact Storage Clarity at Storage Clarity is a storage integrator and value added reseller that specializes in archival, compliance and data-protection solutions, and related services.

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