Plasmon is a supplier of optical data storage products. It is a highly unusual company in that it has developed the only usable and successful optical storage format for business use after the magneto-optical (MO) format ran out of steam.

It was the only company in the world to do this and its UDO (Ultra Density Optical) format is now in its second generation, offering 60GB capacity, far beyond that of DVD. There are competing optical formats for the archiving of data: consumer-based Blu-ray and HD DVD, currently fighting it out in the marketing trenches for the post-DVD winner's medal. There are also holographic storage disks, such as those from InPhase, which start at 300GB capacity.

Plasmon has recently undergone re-financing and a CEO change, suggesting that it has had problems. The new CEO, Rod Powell, is bedded in and Techworld talked to Plasmon's EMEA marketing director, Steve Tongish, about optical storage and a business need to archive data.

Techworld: What is your view of an archive's function?

ST: An archive should ensure long-term and secure access to data and provide businesses with the ability to leverage their accumulated data assets, and to comply with regulatory reporting requirements. Many organisations recognise the value of such an archive but, faced with constant technological advancement throughout the lifecycle of their data, are unsure how best to go about future-proofing their corporate assets.

Techworld: Why is optical media a good choice for archiving?

ST: The benefits of optical storage in long-term archiving are widely accepted. As data is written, optical media is physically and permanently altered. This allows for minimal management of the archive as the data is securely locked within a stable recording surface. This contrasts with magnetic storage, tape and disk, which are relatively volatile and hence need careful and expensive ongoing management, making them less attractive in long-term preservation.

Techworld: There are several optical formats available. What is your view of Blu-ray and HD DVD?

ST: These two competing optical formats have been recently introduced to the market and are sometimes spoken of as a possible solution for professional archiving.

In their favour, the formats are relatively inexpensive, both in terms of the drives and the media, and have good storage capacity. However, and significantly, the price is indicative of the purpose to which these formats have been designed. They are both clearly focused on the consumer market. One of these formats is likely to gain global acceptance as the media of choice for home entertainment (high definition movies and games) in the next few years. It is still very unclear which format will win this battle.

Blu-ray has a stronger position in North America and HD DVD is the preferred format in Europe. Only time will tell.

This is an interesting debate for consumer technology analysts but the professional archivist, tempted by the low cost of the technology, should beware. Not only is one of these formats likely to lose the battle, but over time, quality will be compromised by manufacturing methods designed to produce cheaper and cheaper media for consumers. As with low cost CD and DVD, archivists could find they are losing data on consumer quality media.

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