Networked CD-Roms? Yes. They Existed…

ncdrNetworked CD recording, facilitated by much-evolved network software programs and hardware solutions, is an economical and technological feat whose time has come, and it's rapidly becoming the corporate storage medium-of-choice for a wide range of implementations.

CD-ROM networking is not what it used to be, and neither is networked CD recording. That's especially good news on the CD-R side, as CD recording over the network has changed to reflect new technologies that make this once-daunting process viable and stable. What's more, networked CD recording, facilitated by much-evolved network software programs and hardware solutions, is an economical and technological feat whose time has come, and it's rapidly becoming the corporate storage medium-of-choice for a wide range of implementations.

Just as the power of the Pentium processor and PCI SCSI cards have largely rendered dreaded buffer underruns a non-issue, these processors, PCI SCSI cards, and 100BaseT networking cards and hubs have enabled network operating systems to weather the rigorous data transfer demands of CD recording. But many past concerns of network recording remain relevant today. Issues like additional hardware and software costs, file server loading, server SCSI card conflicts, server device driver conflicts, user access, and user security must still be considered. However, as technology marches on, network recording becomes increasingly stable and reliable and today is remarkably accessible to many users given its early stumblings.

The advantages of recording CDs on shared drives over the network are myriad. Time was when the best argument for networking CD-R was that recorders were simply too expensive (and in the very olden days too big) to install one on every desktop, but even with the precipitous price drops we've seen CD-R take in recent years, sharing recorders among users or groups still makes economic sense. Network writing frees workstation resources for other processor and I/O-intensive tasks and allows administrators more control over CD-R security. It also lowers maintenance costs, and reduces demands on system administrators who only have to supervise one or a handful of networked recorders rather than dozens of scattered standalone CD recorders operated by users with varied technical expertise.

GOING IT ALONE

There are several physical setups that can be used to record CDs over a network that don't require additional hardware or software purchases. In a simple implementation, few additional resources are required to produce recorded discs that draw data from multiple clients or servers and bring it together in a single location for recording to CD. A recorder hosted by a local workstation with appropriate recording software can perform this job either in a batch mode that is triggered by a particular event or manually by a user assigned to record certain files to CD.

There are limitations to this as a recording solution, however. Some CD-R software still does not allow the user to designate network drives as sources. This behavior is likely a holdover from the days when network connections were not fast enough to move data across the LAN at speeds high enough to keep a CD recorder's buffer full.

In the past, attempting to record CDs over the network at speeds over 1X or during periods of increased network traffic typically yielded early buffer underruns. Thanks to today's 100BaseT connections, more sophisticated data caching techniques found in the latest networked CD management software, along with the larger internal buffers found on the latest CD recorders, a strong network should be able to sustain the data transfer rate necessary for recording at 4X and even higher speeds when 6X and 8X drives are installed.

Recording reliability can be enhanced by using the network to gather files from the server, or in a peer-to-peer situation, from the various workstations, to create a real ISO9660 image on a workstation hard drive, then transferring that image from the workstation to a local CD recorder. This works well enough if there is a spare workstation that can be dedicated to CD image creation, and if there is somebody within the organization who knows the CD-R software and has the time to produce CDs on-demand according to user requests.

But tagging files on other clients and a network server to be included in a virtual image is another matter. Several problems arise with this approach, including that some CD-R software will not allow files on a networked drive to be included in a virtual image. In many cases, the CD-Recordable software will anticipate that the transfer speed from the files over the network will be too slow to create an image on-the-fly and consequently prohibit the network files' inclusion to save the user from the buffer underrun that will inevitably result.

Even under otherwise ideal conditions, the larger the number of files included in the virtual image, the more likely it is that the process will fail. A related approach that may work better is to make a real image on a NetWare volume from server or remote client files, but this workaround only solves part of the problem, since it enables limited network writing functionality at best. This approach is more robust; with a real image, the recording process can absorb interruptions in the data stream without incurring buffer underruns since you are merely creating a hard drive file (ISO9660 image) that will later be written to a recorder on a local workstation in a single seamless write under optimum conditions. However, while you can make a disc from the real image on the file server, and avoid incurring the buffer underrun-sensitivity endemic to using a virtual image containing remote files, this approach may require that the disc be written at a slower than optimal speed.

Attaching a CD recorder to the file server and letting the file server take the recording load is a workable solution that does not require additional hardware expense. Once the files are resident on the file server, the client can initiate an image build or record and then go on to other business as the file server handles the details. This is a straightforward solution that is not itself directly affected by network traffic, but may show some weakness in situations where the file server is receiving heavy user access.

SOFTWARE-BASED SOLUTIONS FROM PEER-TO-PEER TO NAS TO LAN

While home-grown network recording is possible and an increasingly viable approach given the rapid evolution of its component technologies, several companies offer specialized software and hardware/software combinations designed specifically for LAN access to CD recorders. Some include general CD management and access software and allow a recorded disc to be immediately mounted for access to network users through the jukebox management software.

Smart Storage: SmartCD for Recording and Access

Smart Storage's SmartCD provides integrated recording and access to CDs in CD-Recordable jukeboxes. Running on a Windows NT or Novell NetWare server, SmartCD provides simultaneous file access and recording capabilities to any client attached to the network. SmartCD creates a unified directory structure across CDs or a separate subdirectory for each CD. While accessing data from the CD-Recordable jukebox, users can drag and drop files and directories from Windows 3.11, Windows 95, and Windows NT to create network-recorded CDs.

SmartCD supports most currently installed and available CD-Recordable jukeboxes, CD towers, and minichangers. SmartCD also offers an API to enable independent software vendors and systems integrators to embed CD-R jukebox functionality into their storage systems. The various toolkits provide different levels of recording and access functionality, from basic device-driver control to a full file-system approach, depending upon the requirements of the application. After data is recorded to a CD in the jukebox, SmartCD dynamically adds the CD to the file system for immediate access. SmartCD supports any client that can access a CDFS volume, including PC, Macintosh, and UNIX.

The Novell NetWare Server version of SmartCD runs directly on a Novell NetWare 3.12 or 4.1 file server, presenting all data as a standard NetWare volume. It supports PCs and Macintoshes running NetWare, including resource forks for Macintosh clients. Like the Windows NT version, it supports ISO 9660 Level 1 and 3 CD-ROMs.

Young Minds' UltraStudio: MakeDisc Made Easy

The UNIX-based UltraStudio uses a CD-ROM jukebox with an internal recorder and Young Minds' proprietary controller technology. UltraStudio can record up to 500 discs without user intervention. Discs can be automatically mounted, making them accessible across the network. No client software is needed to access the discs. Integrated mass storage software allows the system administrator to set permissions for users and groups, as well as for individual discs and groups or libraries of discs.

Users and administrators can initiate recording from anywhere on the network. Young Minds' MakeDisc software, long a part of their CD Studio line of products, is included with UltraStudio and can be started locally or remotely-both local and networked data can be included in the data set. Once a data set has been premastered, the actual recording process begins. The CD recording process can then run as a background task.

UltraStudio's online publishing option lets you immediately put the information you recorded online and make it accessible to anyone on the network. Discs do not have to be handled or manually moved, but are automatically logged into UltraStudio's database. UltraStudio tracks each disc's location and contents and caches the disc information. A user wishing to browse the contents of the jukebox can see the disc's directory structure without needing to mount the disc itself into a reader.

UltraStudio is an integrated system, consisting of a CD-R/CD-ROM jukebox, UltraStudio controller, MakeDisc premastering software, and Young Minds' CD-ROM Mass Storage and Jukebox Management software. UltraStudio is available for Sun OS, Solaris, HP UX, DEC UNIX (Alpha), and AIX (RS/6000). UltraStudio is available with both the Pioneer DRM-5004X 500-disc jukebox or the NSM Mercury 31 150-disc jukebox.

iXOS Jukeman for Recording and Access

iXOS Jukeman is a file system for a variety of jukebox systems that supports many different storage media. Available for Windows NT and UNIX networks, and offering support for MacOS, OS/2, and Novell clients, Jukeman boasts several CD recording functions, such as small lot production, that are accessible through the administrator's interface.

The Jukeman writer software, available for both UNIX and Windows NT, reads data from a premastered file, a raw partition, a pipe, or from another CD drive. The software can copy CDs and even write file systems that are being generated on-the-fly. Jukeman achieves the constant data rate that recorders require by using the operating system's real-time features and software buffers. The software features generic support for Unicode characters and Joliet file extensions for ISO 9660 and track verification.

Luminex's Fire Series: UNIX CD Archiving and Duplication

awfLuminex's Fire Series for UNIX CD-R archiving software provides automated CD-based data archiving and duplication. With the Luminex software, any directory accessible from the UNIX server can be archived to CD-R. A single Fire Series archive command is issued to format the data into a standard ISO9660 or RockRridge image. That image is then transferred to CD.

Network access to the other CDs in the library remains online during the CD-R archiving process. Recorded discs can be automatically verified and automatically mounted for network access. Multiple archives can be created quickly since the Fire Series is able to queue recording operations and assign multiple recorders for archive completion.

PSO's Win-Masterlan: Client/Server Network Recording

PSO's Win-MasterLan is a client/server system which offers CD recording capability to any network client. The system is autonomous and requires little user intervention. Win-MasterLan, which consists of a CPU, a CD recorder, and controller software, can be operated remotely by any computer with access to the TCP/IP Network.

Win-MasterLan supports limited series duplication of CD-ROMs and--with an optional jukebox--allows automatic production of CD-R without user intervention.

Axonix ProUnQ CDR Sharer: Network-It and Write-It

The Axonix ProLinQ CDR Sharer is a network-ready CD recording "appliance" that operates independently of the file server. The ProLinQ CDR Sharer supports multiple protocols, allowing users on any Windows 95, Windows NT, or Windows 3.x workstation to record CDs from the desktop over both Windows NT and Novell networks.

The ProLinQ CDR Sharer includes a modular controller, a 4X write/6X read CD-R drive, and a 1.2GB SCSI hard drive. Connections can be made through 10Mb Ethernet, 10/100BASE-TX Fast Ethernet or Token Ring 4/16. An external SCSI port allows users to add up to five external peripheral SCSI devices to the Sharer. The included CDWriteIT software lets users record CDs by dragging and dropping selected files. The Sharer includes Ornetix's CD-Commander for CD title management.

Meridian Data CD NetRecord for NetWare: Multiple-Job Management

Meridian Data's CD NetRecord uses Loadable Modules on a Novell file server and Windows-based tools for directing the contents of individual CD-R discs and managing a job queue for the network. Meridian's server software architecture manages a large directory staging area on a dedicated hard drive on the file server.

CD NetRecord integrates with the NetWare Queue Management Services, allowing multiple job requests to be submitted independently from authorized network users. Additional jobs may be submitted while another job is in process. Meridian's management software is a Windows-based program that provides system administrators the ability to view and manipulate the network-wide CD-R job queue and to maintain a logfile history for recorded CD jobs.

NETWORKED CD-R HAS ARRIVED (AND HOW IT GOT THERE)

Sharing CD recording capability over a network is the same as sharing other expensive resources, such as high-end laser printers, digitizers, and scanners. Even though CD recorders are now hundreds of dollars cheaper than they were three years ago--which has demonstrably improved the economics of the recorder-for-every-user approach--the money saved by sharing them can be used to enhance recording functionality and speed by allowing an administrator to give users access to 4X and faster recorders and to CD-R jukeboxes and multirecorder towers. And with the range of software now available to serve CD recording needs on a vast range of network configurations, administrators more than ever enjoy the help they need to make CD recording not just a logical solution for network storage and data distribution, but also a manageable and reliable one.

Beyond the newly tamed terrain of network storage, what is the next frontier that CD-R will attempt to conquer? Think ahead a little bit and imagine yourself recording a data disc locally from an ISO 9660 image on the Internet. Imagine recording directly to CD-R on-the-fly while the file is downloading, given the sustained transfer rates required for CD recording and the limited bandwidth of Internet data transfer. Or imagine cutting your own audio disc from WAV files on a far away home page. If the future does indeed deliver such new CD-R opportunities when the bandwidth is available, CD-R--given its play-on-any-desktop ubiquity via the massive installed bases of CD-ROM and DVD-ROM--may truly prove the storage medium to outlast and outsell them all.

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