A small Rockville technology firm that believes that it has a breakthrough in storing information on computers has hired a Sony executive to help it achieve another milestone: bringing the new technology to the $23 billion data storage market.

M.H. "Sonny" Chaffin became president and chief executive of Optex Corp. Aug. 1, after four years as president of Sony Corp. of America's Optical Storage Systems Co. and two years as vice president for the venture capital unit of Tektronix Inc. of Portland, Ore.

"We consider it a major coup for us," said Optex spokeswoman Laura Beres.

Inventor Joseph Lindmayer founded Optex in 1986 to develop new technology for optical computer disks read by lasers -- basically the same technology used to record music on compact discs.

Lindmayer's goal was to make such disks, which can hold huge amounts of information on a computer, about the same size as today's floppy disks -- as well as erasable, durable, easy to remove and, just as important, affordable.

Optex plans to bring this technology to fruition in late 1991 or early 1992, Chaffin said, with a system that can store more information and retrieve it more quickly than any product now on the market.

Chaffin's job is to find a corporate partner whose financial resources and market power can help make that possible. Until now, Optex has survived on funds from several corporate investors and some Air Force contracts. That is changing, however.

"They feel that they are starting to move out of the research phase and into the business development phase," said Robert Katzive, vice president of Disk/Trend, a market research firm in Mountain View, Calif. "They've gotten someone who knows the industry and knows how to do business in it."

Although Chaffin did not specify which companies, if any, Optex has targeted as venture partners, he said he hopes to team up with a larger firm within the next 12 months.

"My hope is that through my experience ... I can understand their needs and structure the opportunity for partnering in such a way as to benefit both companies," Chaffin said.

Chaffin's former employer may well be near the top of Optex's list of potential partners because Sony is the world's biggest vendor of optical disk drives and has sunk extensive resources into developing new technology.

"It wouldn't be that surprising to see a joint operating agreement between this company and Sony," said Crawford Bel Prete, a market analyst at International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass. "They are going to need resources, and one thing Sony has is a lot of cash."

Chaffin's decision to leave Sony and take his place among the dozens of tiny high-tech firms that line Research Court in Rockville illustrates his faith in Lindmayer's electron trapping technology.

"He is making an investment and saying, 'I believe this is viable,' " said Bel Prete.

"There is a great deal of excitement and energy that comes with working in a start-up environment," Chaffin said. "Even though the risks may be higher than at a company like Sony, the rewards are {greater} as well."