Summary: Optical disk drive info (Long)

From: Eric Wines (
Date: Fri Dec 28 1990 - 15:52:33 CST

Responses to my query regarding Optical Disk system for SparcStations have
stopped coming in, so here's my summary.

My original posting to Sun-Managers and alt.sys.sun:

>We have a rather urgent need to find an Optical Disk system that works. The
>environment consists of Sun SparcStations running SunOS 4.1. We have had
>mixed results with the two packages we have tried. The currently available
>hardware seems fine, it's the software that is the problem. We need to be
>able to mount the optical disk via nfs (nfs read only is ok, though
>read-write would be nice). It would also be nice if the product ran on
>platforms other than Sun.
>My questions:
>- Who has optical disk systems that work on SparcStations?
>- How good is the software, support, etc?
>- Any wisdom, experiences (good, bad and/or ugly) would also be appreciated

I received 18 responses, most within 2 days of my posting.

Quite a variety of products were mentioned. From the responses and from the
vendors I've spoken with, I get the impression that what type of Sun you're
putting the disk on is very important. It seems that some vendors run
fairly well on a 3/50 but have trouble with SparcStations. Pinnacle was
one such vendor. Two people used nasty expletives in describing the
quality of Pinnacle's device drivers and told me under no circumstances to
purchase their product. Those two people asked not to be quoted in my
summary. It sounds as though Pinnacle is getting better, but for me it's
too late; I'm now convinced that avoiding Pinnacle is a good thing.

Two people mentioned DoroFile. We have used their software and hardware. I
wasn't impressed. They also seem to be one of the only companies that
restricts NFS mounts to Read Only. :-(

We have done some work with Perceptics. They only recently got their driver
for SunOS 4.1 working with NFS. It seems they've been willing to sell it for
a while, even though it wouldn't work with NFS. I think that we're going to
see how Perceptics works out.

One question that remains is whether or not you need specialized commands to
access the OD. Perceptics and Dorofile both have specialized versions of
some commands (Perceptics has their own ofind ofsck ofsd olink omount), I get
the impression that most vendors have been doing things that way. APUNIX
uses the standard SunOS commands to access their OD system. We haven't
tried it, and I'm curious if there are any disadvantages to not using
specialized versions of the commands.

Thanks to all those who responded:

From: (Steve Jacobson)
From: "alex;923-4483" <>
From: (Harold Ravlin)
From: George Planansky <>
From: (Ed Vielmetti)
From: John Valdes <>
From: (Carlo Tiana)
From: (Mark Plotnick)
From: fabrice@ATMOS.Ucla.EDU (fabrice cuq)
From: ( William R. Lamb sys.adm)
From: Anthony Worrall <>
From: (Mark Glasser)
From: hbo!bice (Brent A. Bice)

------Begin responses-------------------------

From: (Steve Jacobson)

We have an Alphatronix "Inspire" MO disc drive connected to a SPARCstation 1
running SunOS 4.1. We use it heavily, and we nfs mount it heavily.

We've had it for over a year and a half. At the end of one year, there was a
hardware problem; we sent it in for repair and it was fixed. We've purchased
new driver software when we moved it from a 3/50 to the Sparc.

The driver software has improved. A kernal mod is required now, however, and
there was a delay when we switched from OS 4.0 to 4.1. We had to wait until
Alphatronix came up with a 4.1 driver before we could use all the driver features.
They did FAX us an kernal adb mod that allowed us to effectively use the drive
while we waited for the update.

The only downside to Alphatronix is that the price seems a little higher
than other things you can get. But it also seems to work better. We work with
a department that has a Pinnacle system. They paid at least $1000 less, but
they've had a lot of problems.


From: "alex;923-4483" <>

You might try TenX and check out their OCU with an optical disk. You might
be able to getter a better deal on the disk itself from another vendor.

The OCU makes the WORM drive look like a normal disk to the system while
increasing read/write performance. It has built-in battery backup. If
the system loses power, the OCU will maintain data integrity on the WORM
drive. If the media is inadvertantly removed, the OCU verifies that the
same media has been reinserted beforecontinuing operation.

Call TenX at (512) 346-8360


From: (Harold Ravlin)

        Look in "Sun Expert" and "Sun Tech Journal" magazines. Vendors
seem to be coming out of the woodwork all the time.
        We recently purchased an OD from US Designs. They sell Maxtor's
'Tahiti' drive which holds up to 1 GB and has 35ms average access time.
Some vendors sell jukeboxes which will automatically swap cartridges. If
we had more money, we might have looked into one.

>- How good is the software, support, etc?
        We haven't used it enough to know. Doing a 'newfs' appears to
take 10-20 minutes. I haven't been thrilled with support, but I haven't
any major gripes yet.
        It does use a dedicated driver which needs to be installed. They
supply an install script, but I wound up doing it myself from their

>- Any wisdom, experiences (good, bad and/or ugly) would also be appreciated
        Sun's eject command doesn't work. You'd need to use theirs or
push the button.
        Their Sunview based interface could use some work, but seems to
get the job done.
        It doesn't support synchronous SCSI, but the transfer rate may be
slow enough that it doesn't matter.

        I'm going to be very reluctant to export the the OD filesystems.
We plan on letting user's have their own cartridges and change them at will.
Its not clear what effect this would have on an NFS client. If you know
how to do it safely, I'd like to learn.


From: George Planansky <>

Just some thoughts ..

Once you 4.2 bsd mount (i.e., locally) an optical disk's filesystem(s),
then you just exportfs them, and other machines can nfs mount them.
Of course, if you change disks, you have to un-everything everywhere

I have a Pinnacle REO-650 mo unit, which like many uses a Sony-D501
(or is it C501?) drive/controller inside, on a 3/60.

You can get driver and utility software for these "Sony-501" drives
from a lot of vendors, e.g., Artecon's software will drive the Pinnacle
unit too (they say). Some of them probably provide "extra" unix utilities
to set mounts up automatically, so you don't have to do that part yourself.

Some of the problem involves root level permissions for commands like
mount, which affects writing simple scripts to do stuff automatically.
You want (c-coded) utilities that are real specific to just the
mount, etc. operations, that involve the optical disk filesystems.

Automounting might take care of the remote side of that.

I talked a bit with Artecon's tech people (after, alas, I got the Pinnacle)
and think they would have stuff that worked on SS's, 4.1x, and would
do the right things for you. Their pricing was about 2/3 of
Pinnacles, too. Pinnacle was having problems with software support,
though I think their REO-650 hardware is very reliable.

Artecon seems to know suns inside out. 1-800-USA-ARTE.
I've gotten quotes from Mary O'Malley there.


From: John Valdes <>

I just installed an HP C1711A optical drive with a software driver from Introl
Corporation on our Sparc330 (SunOS 4.1). I haven't had a chance to see how
well it works (the drive works fine, the software driver is what I'd like to
give a work-out)--the only problem I've noticed so far is that large disk
transfers really slow down the system (e.g. 'ls' takes about 5 seconds to show
files). I'm not sure of the cause of the slow down; it was a disk-to-disk
transfer of 3 +45MB files on a loaded SCSI chain (i.e., 8 devices on chain
including Sparc). Other than perhaps questional performance, the driver works
fine. The disk can be accessed as either a file system or as an archive device.
It came with an installation script which will modify the necessary kernal
configuration files and rebuilt a new kernal. It also came with a nice Sunview
interfacing utility for formatting, partitioning, etc.

We didn't purchase the drive ourselves (the poor soul who did owns an Apollo
w/o a SCSI bus, and so we have it connected to our Sparc and he just NFS mounts
it), so I can't give you any vendor details, but I can find out if you're
interested. The address for Introl (off of the driver manual) is:

      Introl Corporation
      2855 Anthony Lane, Suite B-1
      Minneapolis, MN 55418
      (612) 788-9391 FAX: (612) 788-9387

They should be able to answer any questions about the driver better than I can.
As I said before, I just installed it a few days ago, so I can't say how good
the support is, either.

I just talked to the person who purchased the optical drive; he bought it from
a company call Datalink. We have purchased a number of hard drives and tape
drives from them and have found their prices to be cheap, response to be fast,
and service to be good. They sell the optical drive and the software driver
together. Their number is 1-800-448-6314 or (612) 944-3462.


From: (Carlo Tiana)

We have a Pinnacle Micro REO650 which works really well,
in all respects (we have just ordered a 2nd unit in fact).
We mount it rw over nfs, never needed any support, the
software is ok (does the job, no complaints).



If you're serious about getting space on opticals you might look at the Epoch
"Infinite Storage system". It's a complete server which exports the files via
NFS, and stages files on magnetic storage for you.

[We aren't that serious :-)]

From: (Mark Plotnick)

We have 8 Pinnacle dual drives on some SS-1's and 4/330's, running
SunOS 4.0.3. The software is OK, though the manual, drivers, and
makedev script can't seem to agree on what the device names are called,
and there's been a long-standing bug in the SS-1 driver in which doing
a dkinfo on a disk at the same time as you're reading or writing the
raw device will result in both operations aborting. We've mentioned
this several times to them over the past year, by email and by phone,
but they've never acknowledged that they're looking into the problem.
The 4.0.3 software we got with the drives that arrived 2 months ago was still
from 1989. They keep on putting off the question of whether they'll
sell us the source code so that we can fix the bug ourselves.


From: fabrice@ATMOS.Ucla.EDU (fabrice cuq)

You might want to call this company:
Computer Upgrade Corporation
2910 E. La Palma Ave.,bldg A, Anaheim, CA 92806

We ordered a product called OMNISTOR(both WORM and erasable Magneto-optic)
which doesn't involved any software.(I don't have it yet). From what I gathered
the installation is very like an external hard-disk.(will look like a sd*


From: ( William R. Lamb sys.adm)

I have one Artecon rw OD (Sony) and three Relax Drives. I have not been
able to get the Relax drives (Ricohs) to work properly and their support
is dismal. They are an Apple shop and only the president of the company
knows anything. The Artecon is on my 3/60 but we have the patches for our
4/65 and 4.1. Their support is by far been better but their drive is
slower. Probably neither brands are worth a damn but Artecon by being
strictly Sun are more knowledgeable in their support.

ps. The Relax drives were suppose to work right out of the box on 4/65 but
their cables prevent you from using anything other peripherals devices that
do not have the centronics 50 plugs :-( I am pretty disappointed in Relax.



        We are using a product called Lcache from ATS. It's awful. It used
to work under SUNOS3.5 but has gotten much worse under SUNOS4.0.3. We've got
three Sony 3.2GB WORM drives and controllers. I'm looking for new software
and came across Genesis Imaging Technologies 1220 Valley Forge Road Penna.
19482. Their number is 215-933-4848. I doubt they wrote what they're selling,
but its a start.



One to avoid (IT's what weve got !!)

Optimem 1000 WORM disk
Dorotec's "DoroFile" software

We are about to buy a Erasable Optical Disk (SONY) from Computer International
It is supposed to be quite good.


From: Anthony Worrall <>

We have been using the Dorofile system from Dorotech for the last few
years and have had few problems with the software. The hardware (Optimem 1000)
is a different story.
The Dorofile system give nfs read access and local read/write access. There
are a few restrictions like you can not change the ownership/mode of
directories and there is some limitation on the number of files in a directory
Despite this we have directories with hundreds (<450) of files the only problem
I have seen is a complaint from ofsck (the Optical File System ChecKer) which
complains about directorty table overflow.


From: hbo!bice (Brent A. Bice)

    Well, we have been using Pinnacle Micro drives for quite some time. The
first few revisions of the software we got were not very good (although they
did work), but the latest revision seems to be pretty good. Most of the bad
problems they had have been fixed now and it seems to be a pretty good
performer (we have a REO-6500 Jukebox, but have also used their single
drive REO also).



Try Q-Star. 1-301-564-6006 Bethesda, Maryland
Or Instar Corp. 1-403-264-7274 Calgary, Alberta (Canada)

> - How good is the software, support, etc?
The software (for single disk drives) seems very solid.
They (Q-star) also have software for Jukeboxes but there are some minor problems
there that are likely to go away very soon.

> - Any wisdom, experiences (good, bad and/or ugly) would also be appreciated
The biggest problem with MO drives is the tremendously long write times. I
have experienced problems with this when using a diskette over nfs. The
problems are mainly due to network timeouts waiting to send the next chunk
of data to the filesystem. (IE: tarring off a tape onto an nfs mounted
MO-diskette sometimes would time out. The nfs would "implicitly" close the
file and then open it again when all was ready. However, now the
permissions had been set, say read only, and tar could not finish writing
out the file.)


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