For the record
Hence, it was with great interest that I recently visited the manufacturing facility of Plasmon at its headquarters near Cambridge. I’d been there before, a few years ago, but it was good to catch up with where the firm stands currently in the marketplace. Plasmon isn’t one of your typical box-rebadging operations – on the site I visited, there’s a complete clean-room production process that actually makes the WORM and RW disks. Indeed, Plasmon OEMs its disks, in the UDO format, to third parties, including all the major names. The drives are built in its other production facilities in the US. Plasmon’s market niche until now has been the large archival library system, where a case the size of a telephone box houses a number of drives, a set of robotic loading arms and hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of disks. These are toys for the big boys, those who need an archival library running to many terabytes of storage. Plasmon does offer a range of smaller devices, though, and is now launching a USB-connected single drive that sits in a traditional desktop case, or can be mounted in a standard 5.25in drive tray.
The new drive is priced at around £1,800, which I’ll admit is a little too high for it to ever become a Saturday morning shopping accident at your local PC World. The disks cost around £1 per GB and are available in a 30GB capacity (15GB per side). By the time you read this, however, the 60GB drive will have shipped, together with the new 60GB disks for the same unit cost per disk and per drive. So consider this as being a 60GB (30GB per side) device with 60GB disks. The disk is a hard-sectored 5.25in optical platter, mounted within a fully enclosing plastic case with a sprung shutter covering the read/write aperture. This is a far more robust configuration than handling naked optical discs. Everything about this solution feels solid.
So what’s the performance like? I installed the device driver onto a spare Windows XP machine and plugged in the drive, then loaded up an RW disk (having decided that RW was less extravagant for testing purposes than throwing away a great pile of WORM disks). Formatting took only a second or so, and then the disk was mounted onto the Desktop just like any other removable medium. Write performance was very good, with 260MB in 1,360 files getting written to disk in less than two minutes, while 106MB in 33 files took only 25 seconds. I then copied 10GB of data from a server to the local machine and thence onto the Plasmon drive, which took about an hour for 7,000 files.
Such performance is fast enough. It’s a lot slower than a modern hard disk, but this is irrelevant: for an archive that must last 50 years or more I don’t really care how long it takes – that I can fill one side of a 15+15 disk in 90 minutes is quick enough for me. I must repeat that this isn’t an alternative to tape backup for a disaster-recovery solution, or to disk mirroring, or to any of those other solutions. This is a long-term archive where you can be totally sure your data will still be readable in 20 years’ time, and that you can prove to a court’s satisfaction that it hasn’t been tampered with.
Why am I banging on about all this? Because companies are rapidly discovering that the term “intellectual property rights” includes a lot more than just airy fairy patent applications or drug designs: it includes that email from the supplier that says you should go ahead with the project; it includes the pension fund for the professional photographer who’ll need, in 20 years’ time, to prove that stunning photo taken yesterday and which has been plagiarised all over the internet, really was taken yesterday and by him (and he can prove it in court); it means ensuring that the family photos and video you treasure today will be something you can pass on to the future generation without wondering where those JPEG files disappeared to, or why that DVD-R disc has a large scratch across its surface.