Five hot -- and cool -- storage technologies
- 16 June, 2008 11:09
"That bottom, very cheap/slow layer is useful, but when you start suggesting that people will cut out the middle layer and spend a ton of cycles waiting for data to go back and forth between main memory and some distant networked storage device, then you're just talking nonsense."
That said, the Web services market will take it seriously - it's not that latency-sensitive - and consumers and the enterprise use it for backup and document sharing, Stokes says.
Rumours of productization of the futuristic-sounding holographic storage have been in the wind for years as researchers fought to come up with a 3-D medium to pack more bits into the same optical storage space. Last year, InPhase Technologies, a Bell Labs venture spun out of Lucent Technologies in December 2000, introduced Tapestry 300r, a line of drives and media the company called the first commercial holographic storage products. Generation 1 of Tapestry will pack 30 GB of data onto a 1.5-mm thick, 130-mm diameter disk at read/write rates of 20 Mbps. The company says by Generation 3, within four years, the media will hold 1.6 TB and read and write at 120 Mbps.
Company co-founder and CTO Kevin Curtis begged off an interview ("We're really busy at the moment") but offered this by e-mail:
"We are still in development of a 300GB removable holographic drive. We have some early evaluation units that are going out next week to a couple of customers. Earlier prototype drives were used by Turner (Broadcasting System) for some simple testing and actually to broadcast a commercial over TBS."
The theory of holographic storage, short version: A laser beam carrying the data to be written is modulated by a reference beam, creating a three-dimensional composite that is written through the entire depth of the storage medium, not just on the surface like CD or DVD storage. Reading the disk with the data beam will reconstruct the reference beam when it finds matching data, speeding search and seek.
"The main thing with holographic storage is it has potential for longer-term storage of large data sets," says Info-Tech's Sloan. Given the growing need for data storage for compliance purposes, a long-term medium at a lower cost per bit than tape or existing optical media is promising, he says.
Two things might slow uptake though. First, proponents claim holographic storage can maintain data for 50 years. "It's hard to do a proof-of-concept on that in two weeks," Sloan says. And that very lifespan - one of its key benefits - can be a deterrent. Storage technologies evolve quickly. "What kind of technology will there be in four years?" Sloan asks - and will that investment in storage with a 50-year lifespan still be relevant?
Regardless, it's a fascinating technology, Sloan says. All other magnetic and optical medium work by mimicking bits of data - they're either ones or zeroes, on or off. "The idea that a single piece on the media can mean something different depending on the angle or the colour of the beam is interesting," he says.
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