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.

Techworld: What is Plasmon's view of 3D-type optical media?

ST: Holographic and similar technologies promise to extend traditional optical storage capacity by writing data to optical disk in a 3D format. The first such drives have been scheduled for commercial launch sometime in 2007, with enterprise libraries likely to follow in 2008. However, as a novel technology, there are some significant drawbacks that are likely to prevent widespread acceptance for many years.

Whatever archiving technology an enterprise selects, one important prerequisite should be that it integrates with their existing IT infrastructure investment. Currently, 3D drives are physically much larger than datacentre standards and have achieved certification with few storage management software and automation vendors.

Additionally, the drives are very expensive relative to other optical storage technologies – a single drive has an end-user price of nearly £10,000. These factors combine to limit system configuration and deployment options, raising questions about the ability of 3D to deliver a solution in an enterprise environment. Obvious, but worth saying, unless the price drops enormously holographic archiving is very unlikely to match the budget of any SMB.

Moving beyond technology and price, other purchasing considerations need to be taken into account. Many 3D technologies have been developed by companies with little or no proven track record. The reliability and serviceability of the drives is unknown, as is the commitment and longevity of the companies involved. It is almost certain that a 3D technology will establish itself as a leading archiving solution in the future but which company will successfully steer their product into this position?

For the organisation that needs to create a viable archive today, which easily integrates into their technology infrastructure and with a roadmap to support their investment into the future, this bleeding edge technology is simply not an option. The most likely near-term application of 3D technologies is for archiving high capacity HD film and video content for studios and the television industry, which are willing to invest in emerging technologies.

Techworld: Plasmon has its own UDO format. Can you tell us about its current state?

ST: Ultra Density Optical (UDO) technology is specifically designed for professional archive requirements. Through true hardware WORM (Write Once Read Many), UDO provides absolute data authenticity for regulatory compliance or for any application where archived information must remain intact and permanently unchanged.

Currently in its second generation, with a media capacity of 60GB, UDO is designed for the quality and reliability demanded in enterprise archive applications. UDO media has a very long life, minimising data migration, and virtually eliminating media maintenance. This combined with relatively low hardware and software acquisition costs, means the total cost of ownership over the lifetime of a UDO archive is compelling in relation to other professional archiving technologies, including 3D and magnetic.

UDO is an established technology, certified with leading storage management software and available in turnkey network-attached form, such as the UDO Archive Appliance. Additionally, and critical to today’s archive decisions, UDO technology is designed for the future with a clear roadmap for storage capacities that will approach those currently promised by holographic. Drives are also backward read-compatible to ensure long-term data access and investment protection.

UDO archive solutions are already used by thousands of organisations worldwide across a wide variety of markets and applications, including medical, financial, government, engineering, publishing and broadcast. They are available in a complete range of configurations to meet the archive requirements of small businesses to large enterprise and government agencies.

Techworld: If there is a choice of formats now shouldn't potential customers wait until a winning format emerges?

ST: The pace of development means that there will always be a new technology on the horizon. In ten years time holographic may have become the established archiving technology, but if you need to build a professional archive today you can’t trust your data to consumer products or wait for emerging technology to mature. You can be certain that in 10 years' time, just as now, another technology will appear to sew doubt in your archiving technology decisions. A vendor offering a reliable product, with the proven ability to integrate new technology into their roadmap, while maintaining support for previous generations, is a far less risky proposition than betting it all on the future.

In other words, UDO is the winning optical format for archiving today in Plasmon's view. Naturally Tongish is putting Plasmon's best UDO foot forward; that's marketing's function, but his reasoning seems quite sound. There is a distant hint, an elliptical hint even, that Plasmon may be looking at 3D optical formats in the future, say tens years out. But it is no more than that.