Optical Storage Products Offering A Broader Array Of Choices

The ability to “burn” (i.e., write data onto) CDs and DVDs means that the insurance industry can now store information more quickly and easily, say the purveyors of optical storage technology.

Yamaha’s latest line of such products is the LightSpeed family of CD-RW drives that can record and rewrite on CDs, according to Steve Massinello, a spokesman for the manufacturer. Yamaha is located in Buena Park, Calif.

Massinello states that the speeds of the LightSpeed 2100 Series are 16X Write/10X ReWrite/40 XRead/40X Rip, while the 2200 Series, known as LightSpeed 2, are 20X Write/10X ReWrite/40X Read/40X Rip. (10X, for example, means 10 times the normal speed of a music CD. Rip is a program that enables the user to digitally copy songs off a CD into many different formats.)

The CRW2100EZ is one of the models in the 2100 series. Massinello explains that it is an internal drive, requiring installation in a computer’s tower.

While indicating that the internal drive is easy to install, he suggests that users unfamiliar or uneasy with computer technology may prefer an external drive such as the CRW2100SXZ or the CRW2100FXZ.

Massinello says that the SXZ model connects to the computer by way of a small computer systems interface (SCSI). Pronounced “scuzzy,” a SCSI is a high-speed interface that connects computers to devices such as hard drives, CD-ROM drives, floppy drives, tape drives, scanners and printers. “If you have a SCSI card, it’sbasically plug and play,” Massinello notes.

In contrast, the FWZ model utilizes an IEEE (Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers) FireWire, he says. “It’s a thick dedicated wire that goes from yourmotherboard to your disk burner,” he explains, adding that FireWire is a much faster interface. While a computer would need a card to facilitate FireWire, the interface has the capacity to “connect up to 63 devices in a tree-like daisy chain configuration and transmit data at up to 400 megabits per second,” according to Massinello.

He indicates that both the SXZ and FWX models come with a disk that walks the user through the setup. Alternatively, a user can either go to the menu at the top of the browser and click on “file” and then “help,” or call Yamaha for technical support.

Massinello suggests that the external drive may be suitable for small offices. But he said that a larger insurance company which has networked all of its computers to a central server or drive may do better with an internal writable CD drive.

He observes that larger companies usually have a computer dedicated to a data-storage system. “If you have a separate system to do that, you can just put a blank disk in, go to the central drive or server where you have the information you’d like to store and burn in right there. You would not tie up another computer,” Massinello says.

He touts the speed of the LightSpeed 2 models as particularly noteworthy. He says that those models are 20X drives, which can store up to 650 megabytes (MB) of data in four minutes. According to Massinello, 650MB is the equivalent of about 26,000 two- or three-page Microsoft Word documents. Consequently, “if you’re using graphs and Word files, you can store a lot of it very quickly,” he says.

The storage of photographs also presents no problem for the LightSpeed models, Massinello states. “You could store hundreds and hundreds of files on just one disk” with very little noticeable change in detail, he adds.

This storage capacity, ease of use, and instant access to backed up and archived data mean that precious space on a computer hard drive can be freed up, he observes.

The burnable CDs themselves can be stored for a long time, provided they are not subjected to extreme temperatures, Massinello says.

Fujitsu Computer Products of America, based in San Jose, Calif., has a full line of 1.3GB (gigabyte) and 640MB internal and external magneto-optical (MO) drives, says Dan G. Dalton, director, optical products, storage product management.

Dalton indicated that the MO drives feature interfaces such as USB, FireWire, and SCSI for easy installation and are fully rewritable. They also come with 3.5-inch, one-sided media that is “extremely reliable,” he says. The FCPA Web site states that the cartridges are “impervious to dust, magnets, moisture, and shock.”

Fujitsu’s MO drives are “fully backward compatible,” making all previous media capacities compatible with the new drives, Dalton states. He adds that users can read or write to 128, 230, 540, or 640MB, or to 1.3GB media on the latest drives.

Another feature of the MO drive is that it appears as a directory for removable storage in a user’s system. This makes storing products “as easy as moving files to the MO drive icon,” Dalton states.

He also indicates that if a user runs into trouble installing a Fujitsu MO drive, help is available at the www.fcpa.com Web site. For other problems, the Fujitsu technical support people can help the user.

In addition to selling the MO drives to original equipment manufacturers, Fujitsu sells directly to consumers. “We offer bare MO drives and DynaMO drivesa retail kit that includes software, drivers, cables and instructions that enable an end user to install and use the drive immediately,” Dalton explains. He also says that Fujitsu sells its products “through the distribution channel and online.”

Gerard Corbett, general manager of Hitachi America, Ltd. (HAL), which is headquartered in Brisbane, Calif., reports that HAL makes both DVD-ROMs and DVD-RAMs.

DVD-ROM is a read-only disk drive, while DVD-RAM is a read and write disk drive that can be used for storing data or even videos, he explained.

The DVD-RAM uses disks “the size of a standard CD,” but which hold “4.7GB per side of storage,” Corbett indicates, noting that the typical CD holds only 650MB. The disks used with the DVD-RAM are dual-sided.

According to Hitachi’s Web site, the internal DVD-RAM models offer “a single, removable data storage solution for the PC market.”

Corbett says that, with its capacity for high-volume storage, the Hitachi DVD-RAM is suitable for the insurance industry, which handles and stores vast amounts of data, often for long periods of time.

However, HAL sells the DVD-RAM directly only to “value-added resellers,” including computer manufacturers, who then install the drive into desktop computers, Corbett says.

He also says that some manufacturers use the DVD-RAM to build “jukeboxes,” which are “a series of DVD drives” used for storage.

According to the Hitachi Web site, the Hitachi DVD-RAM provides “standard format drives with up to 5.2GB” of rewritable storage capacity on dual-sided media.

Corbett states that it is possible to re-record on the Hitachi DVD-RAM “at least 100,000 times.” In addition to their “incredible shelf life,” DVDs can withstand extreme cold and will not warp, he notes.

Another feature of the Hitachi DVD-RAM is that it is “backward-compatible,” meaning that the drive can read data on older media forms, Corbett points out. In short, the DVD-RAM drive can read DVD-ROM discs as well as pre-recorded and recorded CDs.

As to where storage technology is heading, Corbett believes that DVD-RAM technology, with its “significant potential,” is “the next generation of storage.”

Massinello also believes that DVD burners will gain wider acceptance, particularly because the double-sided DVDs offer much more storage space than CDs.

But one ongoing obstacle to the expansion of burnable DVD technology is the lack of a standardized format, Massinello points out.

Corbett explains that one standard is the DVD-RAM, which was developed by a group called the DVD Forum and which includes companies such as Hitachi and Toshiba. The competing format is known as DVD Plus RW, which is being promoted by Sony and Philips. “The battle’s not over yet, but they both have similar capacities,” Corbett declares.

While technically not in the optical storage business, Hitachi Data Systems, located in Santa Clara, Calif., provides storage hardware, storage management software and network solutions for “the high end of the marketplace,” says Bob Neudecker, public relations director for HDS. One such solution is the Storage Area Network (SAN).

According to Neudecker, until about two years ago, storage was “direct attached.” This meant that a given computer server was restricted and could communicate with only the single external storage box to which it was connected, he says.

Neudecker notes that this led to problems in managing storage as the “explosion in data” started occurring.

One solution developed in the late 1990s was SAN.

Neudecker describes the SAN system as follows: “Let’s say at the top of a diagram you put three squares representing different servers, and let’s say one of them is a mainframe, another a UNIX server and the third a Windows NT server. Down a little further, you have three or four other boxes, and let’s say each one of those is a Hitachi storage box, such as a Lightning 9900.”

He continues: “In the space between the servers and the storers we have another box which we call a switchthat would be device made by company like Brocade or McData or Q-Logic. If you drew lines from each of the servers to the top of the switch and then a line from out the bottom of the switch to each of those storage boxes, then it’s possible for each of the servers to communicate with any of the storage boxes.”

In layman’s terms, “you can access any information from any computer, anywhere, anytime,” as indicated at the HDS Web site.

But for Neudecker the “major advantage” of SANs is that they facilitate “the maximum use of space” by allowing a server to send information wherever space is available on a storage unit.

In the pre-SAN days, there might be excess space on a storage box, but that space was not accessible to any other server. This meant that, as companies ran out of storage space, they would buy not only more storage units, but also more servers to connect to them, Neudecker notes.

He adds that not only was all this hardware cumbersome to manage, it was also expensive. But with SAN, “as the amount of data that you are generating growsit becomeseasier and more economical to add the storage that you need,” he states.

Neudecker indicates that the largest HDS storage unit is about the size of a refrigerator and contains numerous magnetic disk drives. Each of these units stores up to 37 terabytes (TB), with a terabyte representing 1,000GB, he adds. By way of contrast, he notes that an average Microsoft Windows-based computer has about 13GB of storage space on its hard disk.

Counting insurers among the clients of HDS, Neudecker points out that all companies must find cost-effective ways of coping “with the fact that the amount of data they are generating is growing at an unprecedented pace.”

E. E. Mazier is a staff writer for NUs Property & Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, June 4, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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