UDO replacing MO faster than expected

Sales of UDO (Ultra Density Optical) discs and drives are going well and the format is replacing MO (Magneto Optical) technology faster than expected, the president of technology developer Plasmon said in a recent interview.

UDO was launched in mid-November last year and uses a blue laser to store up to 30G bytes of data on a disc a little larger than a CD or DVD. It's been positioned by Plasmon to replace MO in the data archiving space. One of its key advantages in this respect is that UDO cartridges are almost identical to those used with MO. This means it's easier to mix and match MO and UDO drives in the same library, said Chris Harris, president of Plasmon.

Initial sales of the system were hampered by lack of support for UDO in software packages used to control data libraries but the last major software maker to add support, EMC's (Profile, Products, Articles) Legato, did so in June, said Harris. On the hardware side, drives are available in libraries from Plasmon and Hewlett-Packard's (Profile, Products, Articles) StorageWorks line. Plasmon said in its first ten months on the market more than 2P bytes of UDO archival storage library capacity has been shipped. A petabyte is one million gigabytes.

"Since we've launched UDO, we've seen a 26 percent growth in Plasmon group unit sales for 5.25-inch libraries and also see a big switch from MO to UDO," said Harris. "Many vendors offer support for both (MO and UDO) and we thought it would be important but we've seen a big switch from libraries with MO-only to UDO-only."

Cost is seen as a big driver. Figures from Plasmon show the total cost of ownership of UDO is significantly cheaper than MO and just a little higher than DVD. The format is also hitting DVD shipments into the professional space because it is much more reliable, said Harris.

"In professional storage, DVD has had its day," he said. "Our customers, especially those in the medical field, are fed up of DVD. It's consumer, it's ubiquitous, and they tend to buy the cheapest spindle-media but they find it's not quite compliant and they have problems losing data."

"We've positioned (UDO) as price competitive to DVD so they are keen to switch," he said.

The discs cost about US$60 for a recordable disc and US$70 for a rewritable disc -- prices that Harris doesn't see coming down until volume increases. However, the company plans to make higher capacity discs at the same price as existing products so the price per bit is expected to fall.

Last year when it launched UDO, Plasmon said it would produce a 60G byte disc in 2005 and a 120G byte disc in 2007 but both these dates have slipped, said Harris. The new date for the 60G-byte media is mid-2006 and the 120G-byte disc should be available around the end of 2008, he said.

The reliability of UDO drives and disks has proved high, said Harris.

"We've shipped thousands of drives and we've had three back," he said. "In one we could find no problems, one had been dropped and one had a cable loose."

At present UDO has few rivals but one is from Sony (Profile, Products, Articles) Corp. The company has produced a modified version of the consumer Blu-ray Disc technology under the name Professional Disc for Data (PDD) and is selling two versions, one aimed at the same data archiving market as UDO and the other at the broadcasting industry. Harris isn't worried.

"A year to 18 months ago, I was much more worried about (Professional Disc)," he said. "They do have a product and they've sold a handful of drives. The problem they have it that its neither like bare disc DVD or the same physical format as 5.25-inch UDO or MO." This means it doesn't fit easily into existing disc library automation systems and so adopting it is more complicated that switching from MO to UDO, he said.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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