Iomega Hits, Misses, and Memories

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Sole Survivor of the Removable-Storage Wars Becomes EMC-ized

Tuesday, EMC Corporation , maker of Retrospect backup software and developer of many corporate-level backup, archiving, virtualization, and management products and services, announced an agreement to purchase Iomega Corporation. Iomega will become the core of EMC's new Consumer/Small Business Products Division, cementing a partnership that goes back to 2004 when Iomega began providing EMC's Retrospect software with its external disk drives. It's been a long road from Iomega's beginnings to this point. Here's how they survived the ride.

The Benoulli Era

Iomega, like many other technology startups, was the beneficiary of an idea that IBM discarded.

A quartet of IBM engineers developed a method for preventing disk crashes by using a cushion of air between the read-write heads and the media. They took the method that IBM discarded and started Iomega in 1979. The method, known as the Bernoulli effect, was the basis for Iomega's first storage product, the Alpha-10 (10MB) Bernoulli drive. Introduced in 1983, it was commonly known as the Bernoulli box for its pizza-box form factor.

The Alpha-10 used 8-inch flexible media inside of a rigid case. Later models in the the Alpha series increased capacity to 20MB, rivaling the capacity of early IBM PC-compatible hard disk drives, and providing the advantage of "infinite storage" - just buy another cartridge to grow your capacity.

The Beta series, which put the cartridge on a form factor diet to 5.25-inches and increased the capacity from the original 20MB to an eventual capacity of 230MB, was the first Iomega product available in an internal form factor.

Leading Edge, the one-time wunderkind of the IBM PC compatible business, sold its Leading Edge Model D in a special configuration known as the "Infinite Memory System," replacing the normal 20MB or 30MB half-height hard disk with a Beta 20MB drive with two cartridges. Extra 20MB cartridges sold for $49.95 each, a real bargain compared to the $250 or so price on a Seagate ST-225 20MB hard disk or similar products sold for at the time. For more about Iomega's greatest hits (and misses), read on.

Iomega's Greatest Hits: Zip, Jaz, REV, and Network Storage

Iomega didn't reach the storage big time until the 1995 release of the Zip 100 drive, which dumped the Bernoulli interface for a more conventional design and reduced the cartridge form factor to enable internal drives small enough to fit into a 3.5-inch drive bay. The objective was to surpass the capacity of Iomega's arch-rival Syquest 44/88MB drives while providing a capacity of 100MB at an attractive price (a smidge under $200).

The Zip drive later became available in 250MB (1998) and 750MB (2002) capacities, and as of 2005, Iomega had sold over 55 million Zip drives and over 350 million Zip disks , thanks in part to clever TV commercials like this one and others, including a SuperBowl spot .

Although the Zip 100 provided unbeatable storage capacity per dollar for consumers and small businesses (at the time), it wasn't big enough for graphic arts and design professionals. For this market, Iomega also developed the 1GB Jaz drive in 1995 (a 2GB version was introduced in 1998). As of 2005, Iomega had sold over 5 million Jaz drives and about 15 million Jaz disks.

Although Iomega, in response to the replacement of Zip and Jaz by USB flash and hard disk-based devices, has developed more commodity-level storage products in recent years, such as external CD-RW and DVD drives and external hard disks, it continues to have a significant presence in the no-longer-crowded removable storage business, thanks to its REV series of high-capacity removable hard disk drives.

Originally 35GB (uncompressed), then 70GB, the latest REV model supports 120GB (uncompressed) capacity and is also available in multi-cartridge loaders for network servers. REV, unlike Zip, is primarily positioned as an alternative to tape backups, although it can also be used as a more traditional type of secondary (or even primary) storage device. Iomega has also developed several network storage devices in its StorCenter product line.

Iomega's Greatest Misses

It's a good thing that Iomega did so well for so long with the Zip and Jaz drives, as their success helped Iomega ride through the storm of the "Click of Death" that affected both drives, as well as a number of unsuccessful product lines:

    • The Ditto tape drive series (introduced in 1992, eventually sold off to Tecmar in 1999)
    • The Iomega Click! (later known as Pocket Zip), introduced in 1999, provided 40MB of storage and was originally positioned as a method for pulling digital photos from flash memory cards .
    • Iomega's biggest failure, ironically named Peerless, was a modular external hard disk system with 10GB and 20GB capacities introduced in 2001. Peerless was hampered by the abysmal transfer rate of the USB 1.1 port, the lack of FireWire support in most PCs, and the high cost of the removable cartridges.

The Graveyard of Iomega's Rivals

Iomega has outlasted some big competitors in removable storage:

If you still have a copy of Maximum PC 's February 1999 issue, you can learn more about the downfall of Syquest and Avatar, as well as the French-based Nomai.

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