Is your office flooded with diskettes? Do you do a daily tape backup, but have no clue if you’ll ever see your files again? Have you been adding new hard disk drives to your computers but enjoying it less? If you had the choice to either read an article on “mass storage devices” or to read the phone book from front to back, does “Smith, Abraham” sound awfully good right now? As hard drives get bigger, multimedia becomes more prevalent, programs become larger and companywide information systems proliferate, mass-storage options become an important topic. Cost, capacity, durability and access time are four major areas that set the options apart. Some choices include tape backup, removable disks, magneto-optical (M-O) and CD-R (recordable).
What tasks do you perform that may require this kind of storage choice?
Major storage tasks
Mass-storage options provide alternatives and supplements to standard hard disks for augmenting, archiving, backing up, sharing and transporting a company’s data and programs. If you pick the right kind of mass storage for your needs, you will make your business more productive. First, know these terms:
–Back up: Making a copy of the contents of a disk or disks as a snapshot of the disk’s contents.
–Archive: Moving older information off the main disk onto other media to be restored if necessary.
–Supplementation: Augmenting the capability of a computer by holding less-used programs or information until they are needed, and then either restoring them to the disk, or acting as an addi- tional disk.
–Publishing/Sharing: Making data available to others within or outside of the company.
–Security: Removing data from the computer for confidentiality.
What is the best way to handle these varying storage requirements?
Removable options: ZIP drives
If you are like me, you have boxes with hundreds of floppies scattered around the office. Floppies are handy. They are pretty standard (although older PCs and ATs often sport 5.25-inch disks). You can interchange data among your computers with them.
But they are limited in size, so you cannot keep everything related together on one disk. Keeping them in order is difficult. They are low-cost, low-capacity, low-durability and slow media.
Program files for one “suite” of software product ship on 25 disks or more. Floppies are inconvenient for multimedia files, like video clip, which swamp the 10-megabyte hard disk of 10 years ago. The smallest hard disk that comes on today’s bargain computers requires 100 diskettes or more for a backup. Traditional floppies are unsuitable for many storage needs.
Is the floppy disk-sized storage device obsolete? Iomega Corp. has revived this category with a new version of its Bernoulli technology: a floppy disk-sized removable storage device that holds up to 100MB, has hard-disk speeds and is cheaper than its equivalent in hard drives. Their new ZIP drives, available for both Macintosh and PC, in SCSI (small computer systems interface) or parallel port versions, are taking the market by storm and are hard to get. At $200 for the drive unit and $15 to $20 for each 100MB disk, the ZIP drive is perfect for homes and small offices. Due to the overwhelming demand for the ZIP drives, units for testing were not available either from Iomega or at local computer stores. (Iomega Corp., 800-456- 5522).
Hard drives, fixed and removable
One-gigabyte (gigabyte equals 1,000 megabytes) hard drives cost less than $400, and 2GB SCSI cost less than $1,000. Why not do backups on the disk itself? Why take data out of your accounting system, or remove customer documents from the main drive? Sometimes you just need to take the data away from the computer, and regular backups are still necessary in case something goes wrong with the equipment or its use.
Removable hard drives accomplish three things: They promote security and data recovery (if it isn’t there, no one can look at it); data recovery (if it is off-site, it cannot be damaged with the rest of the system); and convenience of sharing information between sites.
Most laptop and notebook computers sold today boast removable hard drives, at capacities up to 810MB. However, no real standard has been accepted by the public for these units, and larger ones are expensive.
PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association–also known as PC Card) cards, made popular for notebook computers, also are removable. They offer small size, easy installation, and adapters for both notebook and desktop PCs. However, the PCMCIA hard drives are limited to 300MB using software data compression, and are very expensive per MB.
To cope with 100MB hard disks, people started turning to tape backup. Today, a tape backup unit for tapes that store 250MB of data costs less than $200; the tapes cost $20 to $40 each. For $1,000 to $2,000, you can get tape units that back up 2GB or more.
Because one tape can hold the contents of an entire hard drive, unlike floppy disks, a tape can work in an unattended fashion (as long as you do not exceed the capacity of the tape). Unfortunately, the tape software that provides this unattended function takes away memory that other programs need to run properly.
Tapes are relatively inexpensive, and good for backing up data. They are not as good for restoring data, a fact few companies hope to find out. The software for working with the tapes differs among manufacturers and is used so infrequently that few users can remember how to use it when they need to do so. Tapes also are not suitable for randomly accessing information stored on them. The magnetic image on tape is not suitable for storage more than a few years.
Faster removable technology
Syquest–Syquest Technology’s portable media has been the portable mass storage of choice, outselling newer tech- nologies. It is the standard in the desktop publishing marketplace as a means of transferring documents from the designer to the printer. The sales of Syquest outnumbers M-O drives from all M-O vendors combined, according to Beyond Computing magazine.
Syquest offers a portable unit that plugs into a laptop’s parallel (printer) port for fast access to data. Syquest drives are available in sizes up to 250MB. (Syquest Technology Inc., 800-245- 2278).
Magneto-optical–Magneto-optical technology is the basis of storage devices that have the performance and convenience of hard disks, the portability of tape, reliability and extremely long life. M-O makes information more accessible than tape and protects it better than tape or standard magnetic media.
Optical jukeboxes offer an almost unlimited selection of M-O media automatically, for a virtual bottomless hard drive. Data can be stored permanently (write only) or can be erased for use as backup or a substitute hard drive, at sizes up to 1.3GB.
M-O pricing is relatively high, but is cost-effective when accessing 10GB or more of data. Compared with 10 tapes and a 1GB DAT (digital tape), these units still are a bit expensive. But working with them is a pleasure (if they get set up without too many problems).
We tested the Hewlett-Packard SureStore Optical 1300T Multifunction Disk Drive, which uses standard 5.25-inch M- O disks in either 650MB or 1.3GB capacities. The HP 1300T is a rock-solid unit with very usable software that lets you use both write-once and rewritable M-O media to back up, archive and augment your drives. (Hewlett-Packard Co., 303-350-4710).
CD-ROM–Almost every home PC shipping today comes with a CD-ROM device. Is it time for you to be in the CD- ROM business?
CD-Rewritable lets you manufacture your own CD-ROMs. The primary advantage of CD-ROM is that most new computers have CD-ROM drives. CD- ROMs cannot be erased and reused, an advantage in some situations and a limitation in others (a CD-ROM drive will not be a good substitute for a hard drive). Other limitations with CD-ROM are relatively slow speeds (not comparable to M- O) and capacity lower than M-O (700MB).
CD-ROM is price-effective for small runs of CDs. Price books, internal documentation for salespeople, multimedia presentations and other dissemination of a company’s internal information to employees are well-suited to this technology. As a write-once media, CD-ROM is also suitable for archiving data like accounting.
The price of these units is dropping quickly. At over $5,000 list price, our quadruple-speed Yamaha CDE 100 test unit is expensive, fast and capable, and will quickly help turn your company into a CD publisher (Yamaha Corp. of America, 408-467-2300). Other units are less expensive–$2,000 and expected to drop to a quarter of that within a year.
You will need the right software to go along with your drive. We recommend the Easy-Pro CD, which makes mastering a CD as easy as it gets. (Incat Systems Software USA Inc., Campbell Calif., 408-379-2400)
Tape, ZIP, M-O and CD-ROM: Until cheaper and faster alternatives come along, you will find a wide variety of choices for your mass-storage needs.
(Eric E. Cohen CPA is owner of Cohen Computer Consulting, adviser to growing businesses.)