Selecting a High Performance CD-R Solution

Selecting a CD-Recording solution can be challenging. Purchasing a shrink-wrapped standalone software package (or downloading a freeware program) is fine for casual use, but if you are creating tens, hundreds, or thousands of unique CD-R discs on a regular basis, you need something more robust, with a single source for support. The same is true if you do not have the time or inclination to brave the issues of hardware/software installation and the compatibility issues that occur with glaring regularity.

At the outset, you must determine your production requirements; that is, how many discs do you need to record daily (peak production), as well as weekly and/or monthly numbers (sustained production). The system you select must have the capacity to handle peak production requirements, as well as having the durability to handle sustained production levels. Closely related to the raw number of discs produced is the average amount of data that each disc contains. The system requirements facing someone who needs to record 50 discs a day with an average of 50MB each is far different than someone who needs to record 200 full (i.e., 650MB) discs per day. There are further complications; of the total number of discs you are recording, you should determine how many are unique (one-offs) and how many are duplicates. The number of unique discs needed is far more critical than the number of duplicates needed (more on this later).

Platform issues are just as important as production issues. Where does the data reside that needs to put to disc? If it is scattered across the network, you will obviously need to include networking compatibility as one of your CD solution requirements. If the data resides on different types of platforms and operating systems (for example mixed UNIX and NT environments), you will need to consider what happens to the data when it is brought from one platform to another. Windows NT has a habit of capitalizing the first letter of a file name. Other potential sticking points when moving UNIX files over to NT include file permissions and pipes (NT does not understand these), symbolic links, multiple "dot" file names, and file names with white spaces. If you plan to install your CD solution under NT, and you wish to retain the original UNIX file names and file system structure, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise. Unless you can deal with strict ISO9660 compatibility (8.3 format, limited directory levels, all capital letters), it is unlikely that the discs you create will be useable on your UNIX platforms. Using the less restrictive ISO9660 level 3 format may solve many file system incompatibilities, but chances are there will still be problems, especially if preserving original file names is important.

There are other critical platform issues. Installing CD-R drives in any workstation or server environment usually requires installing device drivers. If you intend to use a disc autoloader to provide automation, most of these solutions include a pre-configured Windows NT-based server; the complexity of these systems precludes direct attachment to an existing server. If you are considering such a solution, you must be prepared to deal with the task of adding and maintaining another node on your network, and migrating data to the new server. And again, if you have a heterogeneous network with UNIX, Linux, or other operating systems, you must be prepared for file system incompatibilities that may ensue.

Burning large numbers of unique CDs means handling a large amount of data. Setting aside network bandwidth issues for the moment, consider what happens on the system hard disk when you format a dataset for recording on CD. Operating system tasks periodically require disk accesses, as do other background (and foreground) tasks that are running concurrently. Now add in the premastering software process, which is reading widely scattered files across the hard disk, and also writing a CD image file on the same hard disk. The hard disk heads seek to new positions on the disk constantly, and performance quickly degrades. There are ways to minimize this problem; adding dedicated hard drives for storing CD images is one. Shutting down other processes will also help, as will moving the raw data to be recorded onto its own hard disk.

Moving data from the computer's hard disk to the CD-R drive is an I/O-intensive operation. If your production requirements indicate that you will need to have concurrent recording processes (i.e., you will be recording and/or premastering more than one CD-R at a time), you will need to use a SCSI hard disk(s) as well as SCSI CD-R drives. IDE drives will not cut it, due to their inability to multitask efficiently. As mentioned briefly above, all of these production issues become more acute as the number of unique discs you need to record rises. Making many duplicates and few unique discs presents far fewer problems; in many cases, a simple disc duplicator will work, along with a premastering software package and a CD-R drive. If however, you are faced with making many unique discs, then you need to turn your attention to a robotic disc loading (autoloading) solution. Options to look for in an autoloading solution include in-line disc label printing to ensure that discs are routed correctly once they have been recorded. Some vendors include automatic email notification to users when a disc has been completed.

Environments that have high production levels often require access by multiple users and departments over the network. Centralizing disc production helps to reduce overall expense; it is generally more cost effective to have one $20,000 disc production system instead of five or ten standalone systems (even though the aggregate purchase cost of the standalone systems is less). It is, after all, total cost of ownership (TCO) that you want to reduce - although the realities of budgets and purchasing department priorities may ignore TCO in favor of the lower initial acquisition cost. What that approach neglects, however, is the increased system administration and installation costs, increased requirements for end user training, and increased time spent on disc production tasks. Users who are creating discs are usually highly compensated (such as engineers) and it is in the organization's interests to minimize the amount of time they must spend on "other" functions.

While it is not impossible to build your own high capacity CD-R system, the task is not a simple one. There are off the shelf solutions available however, and while not cheap, the costs associated with building a solution can quickly escalate. It is not uncommon for companies to spend three months or more on trying to put together a low-budget system, and then in the end, turn to a more expensive, but ready-made (and functional) solution.

Many organizations with high end production requirements have selected the CD Studio system from Young Minds, Inc. of Redlands, California that utilizes a CD-R controller. The CD-R controller is essentially a single purpose computer with embedded software. Using a controller eliminates almost all the environmental variables associated with burning CD-Rs from a workstation, since the controller does not have an operating system and serves no other purpose than to get data to the CD-R drive as quickly as possible. In the Young Minds system, the dedicated controller also allows simple integration owing in part to its utilization of native OS device drivers. A Java-based front end further simplifies integration in heterogeneous networks, and shields end users from the complexities of premastering software. As an added bonus, the controller/Java software combination makes the transition to high capacity DVD-Recording practically seamless.

In the end, the choice is yours. CD-R technology keeps getting better, costs continue to decline, and the range of uses continues to expand. As more and more users discover the advantages of CD-R technology, demand within companies for access to CD-R equipment expands. Organizations can either continue to buy stand-alone drives. Or, they can put together a more centralized and automated system that makes users' lives easier and at the same time, gain control of their data.



Copyright © 2000 - 2003. All Rights Reserved. ARTH International, Inc.

Site Designed by: DCK Web Designs