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Data Migration – whatever happened to optical disk storage?

It is not so many years ago that the world of data storage was buzzing with the development of various optical data storage products from read/write magneto optical disks, ablative WORM and Phase Change optical disk. This was to be the future of high volume, long term archival storage.

So what happened? Back in the 1980’s hard drives were expensive, not much trusted and low capacity. Optical disk offered a far higher capacity, and being a removable media technology, the ability to expand storage by simply using more disks. Tape was then seen as a technology in transition, again not adequate on the capacity front, and there was a perception of reliability issues.

Optical disk storage ticked all of the boxes, appeared to be rugged, WORM variants satisfied those for whom data retention was an issue, and they were shiny. Not being as flippant as it might seem, they had the appearance of robustness, and were close enough in terms of usability to resemble hard drive, and so felt comfortingly familiar and trustworthy.

These days we only really see Magneto Optical when people want to migrate away from it or need an optical disk data recovery. Phase Change optical died with the loss of market share in the early 1990’s, some of the ablative formats soldiered on at the high end in the banking and pharmaceutical sectors, and the mainstream of the format evolved into UDO (Ultra Density Optical). But, with only one company pushing the format, against the massive technological advances in hard drive storage and LTO tape, the inevitable happened and the format died.

There is still a lot of data stored on optical disks around the world, we see a steady stream through our optical data migration and data conversion operation, they come from VMS systems, medical scanners and a variety of UNIX platforms, and all finally abandoning the technology for pastures new.

Other optical technologies do still thrive in the form of CD, DVD and Blue Ray, all of which are excellent for data transfer, and for gaming and software distribution, but no longer for the long term archive of data.

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