Although rumors abound that the computer industry Will seek to discontinue the 3.6-inch diskette drive on newly manufactured PCs within the next year, no company in the industry has issued any press releases on this matter. Nevertheless, libraries are advised to look at desktop storage options in anticipation of an announcement about the 3.5-inch diskette.
Hard drives will continue to perform the lion's share of desktop storage. The largest internal hard drives for PCs hold 75 gigabytes (GB), and internal drives holding 200 GB are expected to become available in 2003. The most popular size in the past six months has been the 15-GB drive because that is the size configured with most PCs purchased without an upgrade. A 75-GB drive adds about $400 to the cost of a PC. Regardless of size, hard drives are the fastest storage medium for desktop machines.
Given the price-to-performance ratio of hard drives, an increasing number of users are choosing RAID technology so that risk of data loss is reduced because data is stored on two hard drives, and data transfer rates are increased since both drives can transfer data at the same time.
The drawback to hard drives is that they are not portable. Many users want to be able to take files from one machine to another. The most popular way of accomplishing that has been the 3.5-inch diskette. If they are discontinued, users will have to adopt a new portable storage medium. The question is, which one?
Zip drives—generically, disk-cartridge drives—are the leading candidate because they have considerably more capacity than 3.5-inch diskettes at modest cost. A 100 megabyte (MB) zip drive costs about $100—a capacity equal to 70 diskettes. The drive is externally attached using a USB (universal serials bus) interface or, in the case of some models, an IDE interface.
Optical options such as DVD-R/W drives (R/W stands for read/write) are beginning to be used as an alternative removable storage medium even though they are both slower at transferring information and are more costly—about $250. The DVD drive can be installed in the PC's existing CD-ROM drive bay or in the adjacent unused half-height bay. It typically requires an IDE interface. The major advantage of installing a DVD-R/W drive on a PC is that it can be used to play commercially produced DVD programs in addition to being used as a removable storage medium. Although CD-R/W drives are also an option, they are not likely to become popular because they have less storage capacity than DVD-R/W. The availability and price of DVD movies will be a big factor in the decision by PC buyers to choose DVD-R/W over zip drives.
The latest desktop storage option is a removable tape drive from OnStream Inc. Its Echo DI 30 can handle 30 GB of compressed data, far more than can be held by a zip drive. The drive costs less than $300 and the tape cartridges sell for about $50 each. Although that is nearly 50 times the cost of a CD-RW disk, it provides up to 80 times the capacity.
On the distant horizon are solid state optical media drives that are expected to be smaller than DVD-R/W and hold more information. Pilot products are expected to be introduced in two or three years.
Networks facilitate a new storage option. Files can be kept on a server on a local area network (LAN), or they can be stored remotely and moved via the Internet. The former is becoming more common as organizations move to networks with bandwidths of 100 to 1,000 Mbps (megabits per second). The major constraint on moving files via the Internet has been the limitation of many e-mail programs and the unwillingness of Internet Service Providers (ISP) to handle large files. A few online storage services can handle large files; among them is I-Drive.com. Uploading and downloading information, however, is slow.
The future of desktop storage is unclear, but libraries can likely trust that the machine purchased this year will be usable for at least three to five years before becoming obsolete. The best advice is to buy a machine with twice as much hard disk as you expect to need and be prepared to require a zip drive or DVD-R/W drive if a future configuration does not include a 3.5 inch diskette drive. The choice between the two media might best be made on the basis of the relative availability of the two removable storage media among the library's staff and patrons. Zip drives are the most widely available today, but DVD-R/W may soon be more popular as movies on DVD gain popularity.