From the Front Line: COLD is Hot

One of my main goals in writing this column is to provide the readership with real-world examples of successful, technology-oriented system installations. I think the following satisfies that goal.

COLD (Computer Output to Laser Disk) technology has been around for many moons, and my company has been using it successfully for the past two years. This technology offers one of the most striking ROIs (Return On Investment) available in the IT arena.

First, how it works. A textbook definition of COLD imaging would most likely read ‘a technology that addresses the storing, indexing and retrieval of computer generated documents.’ There are two major components to COLD, the archiving software used to store, index and retrieve system data, and the appropriate laser disk recording device.

My company uses an IBM 3995 Optical Library Data Server (remember, no one ever got fired for buying IBM) connected directly to the AS/400 via Twinax. This small footprint box –18 inches by 24 inches – contains 16 laser disk platters, arranged in a ‘jukebox’ array and has a total storage capacity of 20 GB. The device’s price two years ago was $9,495.

To get a first-hand account of the development of this technology, I interviewed Ron Vangell, president of Magellan Software (Laguna Hills, Calif.). Vangell recounted his experiences in the ‘old days’ of optical storage. During 1992, Magellan saw the steadily-increasing move towards e-commerce, and at the same time recognized a phenomenon involving the mass of paper being produced by both large-scale and personal computers.

With the advent of the inexpensive desktop printers, the average PC user appeared to be falling into the trap of having two copies of all of their computer-based documents – one on disk and another on paper. Vangell described a series of events that eventually led to the formation of one of the first imaging software companies in the United States.

"The proliferation of both faster desktop computers and nice quality printers where initially viewed as away to decrease paper in the office. What actually occurred is quite opposite, it gave the individual power to create more paper faster," Vangell said.

"As technology moves faster in this direction, the need to electronically file documents becomes a requirement, not a luxury. The good news is that the combination of technologies that helped to create the problem can also be used to solve them. As Magellan began to develop its archiving technology, one of the difficulties we faced was how to efficiently and legally store electronic copies of documents. The emerging optical technology at the time looked promising," he added.

The only problem was the marketplace did not know it or understand it. "In those years, we spent an incredible amount of time explaining to prospects the viability of the technology, but the market wasn’t buying it. In fact it wasn’t until the music and [PC] industries deployed CD-ROM as a means to distribute digital information that the market perception changed," Vangell explained.

"In an incredibly small window of time, what we used to do changed to the way we do it now. Even though CD-ROM technology is different than what is used in permanent WORM and COLD technology, it changed the market acceptance of laser digital storage forever and paved the way for the COLD and imaging marketplace as we know it today," according to Vangell.

As I noted above, the ROI on this technology is far better than one would expect. The total hardware/software cost – including the 3995 and Magellan software – was $24,500. Savings per year on 800,000 one-part, 14-by-11 paper was $11,000 (322 cases of one-part at $35/case). Savings on 900+ binders at $2.50 each was $ 2,250. Savings on ribbons/labor to file/and store binders per year totaled approximately $6,000. Net savings per year was calculated to be $19,250, with an ROI time of 13 months.

These numbers made it very easy to sell to management. An interesting note, after storing 800,000 pages of green bar reports on laser disk, we found we had used only three percent of the available storage. This equates to being able to store more than 30 years of reports on one 3995!

Bob Lewis is VP of IT at the FoodService Purchasing Cooperative Inc. (Louisville, Ky.). He can be reached at bob_lewis@fspc.com.