Leveling the Field: Comparing Storage Media Costs

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The ability for mid-range and small-scale hospitals and clinics to play with the big boys when it comes to storage media is gaining ground. A range of more affordable storage choices is allowing storage area network (SAN) access for more than the academic-facility titans. And while network solutions and falling costs gain attention, don't expect to see tape and optical disk storage benched just yet. The media and cost choices abound, and every radiology department or enterprise can find something to meet its business and financial game plan.

Storage needs will continue to grow at a rapid pace. In 2004, the healthcare industry will spend approximately three times as much as in 2001 on storage, reaching $6 billion, according to Anderson Consulting Group Inc. (AC Group). In a White Paper that AC Group prepared for EMC Corp. on total cost of ownership (TCO), it is said that storage-related costs are expected to increase to 15 to 18 percent of an organization's annual IT budget by 2003-2004, based on the adoption of clinical applications that require extensive storage, such as PACS and Computerized Patient Order Entry (CPOE).

AC Group's findings also show that in relationship to server costs, storage-related costs will constitute 65 to 70 percent of server purchases through 2004. The average 330-bed hospital's storage requirement was estimated to increase from a mere 100 MB in 1960 to 4 terabytes by 2002-2003, according to the report.


With all facilities keeping a watchful eye on expenditures and total cost of ownership for technology, spinning media prices continue to become more attractive. Fibre Channel and Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) disk storage price points (including the integrated storage systems) are about the same - anywhere from $50 to $80 per gigabyte, or five to eight cents per megabyte.

Serial ATA (SATA) disk - what some consider the eventual industry common standard drive - ranges anywhere from $5 to $30 per gigabyte, or half a cent to three cents per megabyte, according to Peter Gerr, analyst for Enterprise Storage Group. "Fibre Channel disk drives are probably three to four times the cost of comparable serial ATA drives," Gerr says. Fibre Channel and SCSI are able to transfer data at higher rates of speed than ATA.

Magneto Optical (MO) disks that store medical records run about $10 per gigabyte, comparable to Digital Linear Tape (DLT) or Linear Tape Open (LTO) tape. "But from a media perspective, it has a legacy of not necessarily being able to manage," Gerr says. "It's removable media in that you could store records onto an optical platter and take that platter off site somewhere. [But] it doesn't enjoy the same mainstream success that tape does."

Optical jukeboxes are typically standalone devices, which can be problematic in a networked world. "They're not networked and so in this age of storage area networks and attached storage, the lack of network-ability and lack of compatibility with mainstream management tools prevent optical from having more mainstream influence," Gerr says.

The next generation of optical that's been introduced is Ultradensity Optical (UDO) at about $2 a gigabyte. It's five times less expensive than MO and has a three and a half times higher density. The current generation of MO stores about 9 gigabytes per platter. The newly introduced UDO will store 30 gigabytes per platter.

"The $2 per gigabyte brings it into a range of ATA disk pricing," Gerr says. "So there may be a resurgence of opticalâ?¦a new ability for optical to compete against disk in [healthcare] environments because it enjoys resiliencyâ?¦"

Advanced Intelligent Tape (AIT), DLT and LTO are the three main types of magnetic tape. DLT is the most mature and most prominently sold media type. "It's proven to be very versatile, have good media lifetime, to be resilient to failure and is cost competitive with the other tape formats," Gerr says. "LTO is relatively newer technology and has only a fraction of the market share that DLT does. But the prognosis for LTO is good. It's a competitive format to DLT, but I think that gets to a religious discussion of which is better. Users have a preference either way, and cost may be one of the factors."

AIT is used less and is an older technology. The current AIT technology has a native capacity of a hundred gigabytes. "It's certainly dense in comparison to DLT and LTO, and the transfer rate is 12 megabytes a second," Gerr says. "So it's competitive