At this point in time, the United States is clearly behind Japan in the development and manufacture of optical storage drives, media, and components. The important question to ask is whether optical storage has any strategic importance for the United States in the future. In order to answer this question, the previously posed questions must first be answered:

  1. Are the performance trends of optical storage devices posing any threats to the U.S.-dominated magnetic storage markets ?

    The answer to this question is negative as far as magnetic hard drives are concerned. Indeed, it is expected that over the next five years, the storage density of magnetic disks will increase at a rate not slower and possibly faster than optical disk systems, and magnetic hard drives will therefore maintain their large market share in the near future. This is especially true in view of new magneto-resistive readout heads that allow higher densities utilizing the write-wide, read-narrow geometry, which reduces interference noise. This progress towards high areal density storage systems will inevitably reduce the size of the magnetic media to 3.5 in. disks and probably later to 2.5 in. disks.

    As Figure 3.18 shows, the areal density of magnetic storage devices is expected to reach 10,000 bits/sq. in. by the year 2000. U.S. manufacturers such as Iomega and Syquest have been continuously dropping the cost of their products and providing ever higher capacities. Even new removable products such as Iomega's Zip drives lead the competition with optical disks systems for system backup and as diskette replacements.

    Fig. 3.18. Evolution of areal densities of optical and magnetic disk storage.

  2. Are there any emerging applications where optical storage can open up new markets and initiate new profitable business areas?

    Some emerging storage applications, such as home multimedia applications (10 GB), multimedia file servers (1 TB, or 10 12 bytes), high-definition television and video disk recorder (HDTV/VDR) (100 GB), and massive storage applications (10 petabytes [10 x 10 15 bytes], with 1 GB/s I/O rate), may best be addressed in the future by optical storage. The Japanese optical storage roadmap for the next five years addresses home multimedia applications rather well; however, HDTV/VDR and multimedia file server applications present a unique opportunity for the 3-D layered optical disk techniques that may significantly reduce the cost of these emerging consumer applications. Since these techniques are not yet dominated by Japan, the United States might exploit these openings.

  3. Is optical storage a key product enabling the overall establishment of a powerful production-oriented optoelectronics industry?

    As described in the previous section, the optical storage industry has been one of the key enablers for the formation of a strong optoelectronics production infrastructure in Japan, as well as a thriving optoelectronics business worth $40 billion in annual sales, compared to total annual U.S. optoelectronic sales of $6 billion. As described by MITI, it is widely believed in Japan that "electronics is the science of the twentieth century, and optics is the science of the twenty-first." The JTEC panelists believe that the United States cannot afford to overlook one of the key business segments in optoelectronics.

  4. Are there any areas in optical storage uniquely pursued in the United States that can be utilized to rebuild a competitive industry?

    Many of the major users of optical storage technology are located in the United States. These include Hollywood, cable TV and video store operators, and Silicon Valley, as well as U.S. government-sponsored projects such as the Grand Challenge Problems. Thus, a strong set of users for optical storage products exists in this country. The need for enhanced storage capabilities has already resulted in collaborative efforts between Japanese manufacturers and U.S. users. The recent teaming of Time Warner and Toshiba for the DVD standard is perhaps the early sign of a growing trend. In addition to prompting collaborative efforts between Japan and the United States, the strong user base in the United States can also further drive development of a U.S. optoelectronic industrial base, especially if U.S. researchers and manufacturers are motivated to commit to a well-designed ten-year roadmap that will focus on ultra-high-density CD products (e.g., CD-R) for multimedia file servers and HDTV/VDRs. At this time, the United States seems to have a slight lead in 3-D optical storage, a technology that is just emerging from the fundamental research stage. This area appears to have promising potential.

Published: February 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian