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Iomega and removable storage

Iomega and removable storage

Good data backup means taking your data offsite. Most people think tape drives when this subject comes up, but Iomega wants you to think "removable hard drive" and created this market almost 25 years ago.

Those readers with gray hair may remember the Bernoulli Box, an external hard drive that used eight-inch cartridges to hold a whopping 5MB of data. Snicker if you want, but 5MB ruled when most PCs still used a floppy drive containing 360KB (that's .3MB).

After Bernoulli, Iomega released its hugely successful Zip drive line. Starting with 100MB, a Zip drive was the same size as a regular floppy disk drive, but the disk held 100MB rather than the newly upgraded 1.44MB floppy drive of the day. Three years later, the capacity jumped to 250MB per same size disk and then up to 750MB. Don't think Zip drives are just super-capacity floppies; they are real hard disk platters in a removable case.

The spotlight wandered away from Zip drives as CDs became writeable (700MB) and cheap. Then DVDs became writeable at 4.5GB and we thought portable data salvation was ours. But storage needs increase constantly, and DVDs never give the performance of hard drives, especially when writing.

Now Iomega's upped the removable storage ante again as REV drives start winding their way through a multitude of vertical markets. Smaller than a floppy drive, but just a bit thicker than two floppies, the REV cartridges hold 35GB natively. When coupled with back-up software using compression, the capacity jumps as high as 90GB, although 70GB seems to be the average. But that's far above even the expensive dual-layer, blue-laser type of DVDs coming out now.

Two clever ideas will propel the REV drive to more success than the Zip or Bernoulli. First, the components (platters and heads inside the small case) come from standard 2.5-inch hard drive parts. Iomega had to create new products earlier on, and there were no component makers for Bernoulli and Zip drives outside Iomega. REV drives, however, benefit from the mass market for drives commonly used in notebook computers and all types of consumer hard drive appliances. When component prices drop, Iomega wins. As component improvements drive capacity increases, Iomega wins again as the same size REV cartridge starts holding more data.

Second, the REV drives are small enough to work in a variety of devices never able to enjoy hard drives before. The company recently signed a huge deal to integrate REV disks into video recording and editing equipment. Rather than tape, a camera can now record directly onto a REV hard disk cartridge. Where production crews used to have to copy video tape to hard disk to start editing, now they can just pop the REV disk into their computer and the files transfer at hard disk speeds.

Speaking of tapes, REV now competes directly with tape for computer and network backup. A REV cartridge costs between US$41 and US$59 (bulk-discount packs vs. one at retail). Tape cartridges of similar size are sometimes higher cost per gigabyte, and sometimes lower. But the REV drives always outperform any tape drive competitor in file transfer tests.

The Iomega REV Autoloader 1000 holds 10 REV cartridges and costs about US$1,800 (street, US$2,199 retail). If you think that's expensive, you haven't priced tape cartridge autoloaders before because that price undercuts most tape autoloaders by a good bit.

Imagine 35GB in a case smaller than a drink coaster and so light you forget it's in your shirt pocket. Imagine recording video and plugging the cartridge directly into your network-attached storage (NAS) unit (the Iomega 200d includes a REV drive for back up and file transfer). Imagine an external REV drive that includes your complete notebook computer disk contents that can boot and function as your notebook hard drive if your drive dies.

Iomega sells plenty of NAS devices, external hard disks, and even online back-up storage (their iStorage service). But the tiny REV drive, son of Zip and grandson of Bernoulli, may make the most noise over the next couple of years.


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