by Lowell Rapaport
Jukeboxes manage and organize CDs for any data-intensive business, storage is a primary concern. While there are plenty of options, many choose Compact Disc (CD) for its convenience, durability, and cost-effectiveness. As the discs pile up, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to quickly find and access data. A CD jukebox is the most efficient way to archive data and make it easily accessible to everyone on your network.
Unlike magnetic storage or RAID arrays, the data on CDs is permanent and unalterable. This is particularly important to any business that relies on the integrity of their data.
Another benefit is their low cost — a CD recorder can be had for a few hundred dollars, and blank CDs run as low as $1 each. The only major drawback is that CDs are unwieldy, and that’s where a jukebox comes in.
Most CD jukeboxes look similar to a large PC tower. On the inside, however, they are drastically different. There are three main components to a jukebox — media shelves, drives, and robotics. The media shelves, often referred to as slots, are where the discs are actually stored. The drives read the data and, if desired, also serve to write data to disc (with a CD-R unit). The third component is the robotic mechanism that transports the discs from the slots to the drives and back.
Available in a variety of sizes and configurations, CD jukeboxes, in combination with jukebox management software (see the main Buyer’s Guide), provide an organized way for employees to access shared company data over a network.
We looked at low- to mid-range jukeboxes that hold 100-150 discs and can be configured with as many as five drives. They typically cost between $2,500 and $10,000. All use SCSI-2 interfaces for easy integration and fast data transfer rates.
With the exception of the Sony, all the jukeboxes we looked at have the option of being configured with CD-R drives. This convenient feature means data can be written and archived in one step. This is particularly handy for businesses that need to regularly archive data.
What to look for:
We selected products from four major manufacturers: Cygnet, JVC, Sony, and NSM. In their base configurations, they range in price from about $2,500 (for the Sony and Cygnet models) to about $7,500 (for the NSM).
The first thing we looked at is disc capacity. Some systems are flexible and let you swap out drives for more slots, or vice-versa. Extra slots allow for more data, but decreasing the number of drives will slow access times. The more discs you have in the jukebox, the longer it takes for the robotic arm to swap the discs in and out of the drives and return them to their corresponding slots.
Additional drives, however, will produce the opposite result. They allow more “data under head.” The more data a machine keeps under head, the quicker the average access time will be. It will also increase the longevity of the system, since swapping is reduced.
This balance of discs and drives is known as the disc-to-drive ratio.
We then looked at loading options. For loading CDs, most units provide a mail slot for on-line loading and unloading of individual CDs. The only unit we reviewed that does not use a mail slot is the Cygnet. Some units, like the NSM, also feature “hot swappable” disc magazines that hold 10-15 discs, which can be removed and reloaded while the unit is on-line. For bulk-loading, all of the units except Sony’s use removable disc magazines that hold 10-50 discs, which are accessed by taking the unit off line and opening it. This convenient feature allows similar data to be grouped together for easy on-line and offline management.
The NSM and Cygnet models put unique identifiers on each magazine for ultra-easy cataloging and offline management.
Another factor we considered is reliability. Will this unit hold up over time? To quantify this, the jukebox industry rates the average number of disc swaps that can be expected before a failure occurs – a statistic known as Mean Swaps Between Failure (MSBF). Among the models we tested, the NSM unit has the best MSBF rating at around 2.5 million swaps. The JVC and Cygnet units have MSBF ratings at around 1 million swaps.
The id100 is an affordable unit that performs admirably when compared to pricier jukeboxes. This unit has a capacity of 100 discs (65GB), regardless of the number of drives. The CDs are stored in 20-disc magazines that are bar-coded for easy offline management. The id100 can be configured with as many as four drives (either CD-ROM or CD-R). Since CD capacity is unaffected by the number of drives, it’s a snap to add additional drives later on if needed.
Unlike some of the other models we looked at, the drives on the id100 are easy to upgrade. So should a drive fail, or should you decide to upgrade to a newer technology like DVD, a service call is not required.
One rather unusual user of CD jukebox storage is Tom Worlton, a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory, which has offices in Illinois and Idaho. His work involves scattering neutrons off of various target materials and examining the results.
“We have about 100 users in our division. The CD jukebox lets us place experimental data on line for our users. We also duplicate CDs for distribution to other labs, ” Worlton explains.
Worlton, whose long term goal is to make his data available on the Internet, says he’s filling up 15 CDs per year with data, but he has several years of archived data he’d like to place on line.
This unit is unique in that it does not offer the option of a mail slot. While the system was designed to create and archive the discs internally, we found the lack of a mail slot to be annoying. To add a new CD from another source requires powering down the system and loading them manually into a magazine. Also, there is no control panel, meaning everything must be software managed.
This unit comes with a standard one-year warranty. Available for under $3,000, we consider this a good option for the budget-minded professional.
The MC-2100 is similar to the Cygnet, but it has more features. It too has a capacity of 100 CDs, and can be configured with up to four drives (CD-ROM or CD-R). Like the Cygnet, the disc capacity is unaffected by the number of drives. Upon closer inspection, however, the differences become apparent. Discs are held in two magazines of 50 slots each. They can be loaded individually through the front mail slot, or bulk loaded by powering down the system.
On the front is an LCD display with a 10 key pad. This is used to select, show, and execute various functions without additional software. This unit has a unique air filtration system and dust-proof cabinet that maintains a “clean room” environment. This improves the longevity of components and provides an ideal environment for CD-duplication. Another interesting option on the JVC is the internal CD-printer. This four-color inkjet disc printer (720 dpi) lets you easily print labels directly on specially coated blank CDs, even while reading or writing the disc.
Replacing parts or adding drives on the MC-2100 is comparatively easy and can be performed by the user. A two-year warranty is included. Considering its flexibility and durability, we consider it a solid choice for about $5,500.
The Sony CDL1100 is meant for single-workstation or small network use. Its only available configuration is 100 discs with two CD-ROM drives.
This unit does not utilize magazines, meaning the discs have to be manually loaded through the mail slot or bulk loaded while the unit is off line.
The Sony has a slow robotic picker that is also more prone to failure and dropped discs. As a result, it has by far the lowest MSBF rating of the group at around 100,000.
On the bright side, this unit is easy to set up and configure. The control panel on the front has an intuitive interface and is among the best we tested.
Overall, however, this unit lags far behind the pack. It scored near the bottom in every statistic, and comes with only a one-year limited warranty. At $2,500, the CDL1100 is the least expensive model we reviewed.
The NSM 2000 was designed to offer maximum flexibility with superior performance. The unit itself is compact, utilizing a standard half-height form-factor. This results in shorter robotic distances and the fastest access speeds of any model reviewed.
The unique modular design features 10 drive bays — five in the front and five in the back. The internal back bays can hold either a drive (CD-ROM or CD-R) or a magazine. The front bays can hold either four magazines and one mail slot or five magazines. With one drive and no mail slot, the NSM 2000 holds 135 discs.
The discs can be loaded through the mail slot, or bulk-loaded in magazines. The front magazines hold 15 discs each and can be added and removed while the system is running. The back magazines are loaded by taking the unit off line and opening it.
The 2000 model uses a system called “Memory Track” to store information about the contents of a magazine. This is especially convenient when dealing with a write-once medium like CD. You can include disc titles, formats, and other useful information that will be recognized by any NSM jukebox, regardless of software.
Part of the reason for the NSM 2000’s superior performance is a feature called “Turbo TDD” (Time to Deliver Data). This feature stores a table of contents for each disc, allowing the drives to determine the proper sectors before the CD even spins up. An internal CD printer is also an option on this machine.
The NSM 2000 comes with a two-year warranty. The control panel is fully featured, but somewhat complex. This might prove intimidating to less-technically inclined people. At around $7,500, this unit is also a bit pricier than the other units. Considering its overall quality and versatility, however, the machine does justify its cost.
WHAT WE THINK
The NSM 2000 stands a head above the competition. Its quality, flexibility, and reliability make it well worth the high cost.
The JVC MC2100 is a solid machine that also deserves a serious look from any business owner. We particularly liked its air-filtering system and the optional CD printer. Great features for many real-world applications.
If cost is a primary concern, we recommend the Cygnet id100.
Finally, while the Sony is easy to set up and manage, its lack of features and performance make it a tough purchase to justify.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
Do you already have a large number of CDS?
Do you archive data regularly?
If you are unsure about your future needs, you’ll probably want to go with a model that provides offline management of rarely accessed data. This allows you to manage much more data than the capacity of the jukebox by tracking the magazines and keeping rarely accessed ones on the shelf.
What are the access and performance needs of your users?
How many people will be accessing the library? How often will data be accessed? The more people who need to frequently access data, the more drives you’ll want to have. If a quick response time is essential, you’ll want to look at one of the high-performance jukeboxes that offers a low disc-to-drive ratio.
How is your data currently archived?
Have you already invested in CD-R hardware? Do your discs come from multiple sources? Depending on your situation, you may find it more convenient to purchase a jukebox with a CD-R drive included.
Currently, the best choice for inexpensive optical jukebox storage is CD. CD drives are inexpensive and have proven reliable even under heavy use. There are read-only CDs (CD-ROM), recordable CDs (CD-R), and rewritable CDs (CD-RW). CDs can also support a number of standard disc formats. The CD is the second most universal storage device on all computers. Only floppy discs have wider availability.
Similarly there are read only DVDs (DVD-ROM) and rewritable DVDs (DVD-RAM). It would have been a lot simpler to call them DVD-RW drives. There are also DVD recordable drives (DVD-R), but they are expensive (about $5,400) and don’t have many mainstream business uses.
DVD-RAM drives (which cost about $500-$700) should do the trick for most applications.
Then why switch from CD to DVD? While DVD technology looks promising, standards are not settled yet. Even UDF, the standard disc format for DVD, exists in multiple versions, and DVD is more expensive.
However, CD sales are expected to decline 75 percent over the next three years, while DVD sales are forecasted to increase more than 300 percent. The high cost of DVD is only temporary. Prices are expected to drop as DVD gains popularity and eventually replaces CD as the low cost storage solution of choice.
However, the main benefit to DVD is that it can hold from four to 14 times as much data as a CD. For the relatively small price-premium of a DVD jukebox compared to a CD jukebox, you get several times the storage capacity.
DVD-ROM drives are also backwards compatible with CD, so a new DVD-ROM drive can read older CD-ROM, CD-R, and CD-RW discs as well.