GE's New Holographic Optical Disk May Open New Doors in Consumer, Enterprise Storage

Engineers at GE's Global Research Center in New York have announced a breakthrough in the pursuit of holographic data storage, successfully demonstrating new holographic technology that can put 500GB of content onto a single DVD-size disk. That's about 20 times the capacity of a single-layer Blu-ray disk. But there is a caveat; the disks are still in early development and won't be ready for consumer or business prime time for at least two years.

Conventional spinning disk hard drives, thanks to perpendicular magnetic recording technology that enables them to store about 10 times more data than in previous iterations, are closing in on a 1TB-per-platter capacity.
NAND flash disks also keep evolving-and perhaps even more quickly. Consumers now can buy 64GB flash thumb drives, and the 128GB models aren't far away. Enterprise flash drives are now reaching the 250GB range at this time, and those also will continue to improve.
Now it's the optical disk's turn to shine. The 80MB CDs that are so common today eventually will become as obsolete as 1.4MB floppy disks that were ubiquitous in the 1980s and '90s.
Engineers at GE's Global Research Center in upstate New York on April 27 announced a breakthrough in the pursuit of holographic data storage, successfully demonstrating new holographic technology that can put 500GB of content onto a single DVD-size disk.
That's about 20 times the capacity of a single-layer Blu-ray disk and 100 times the capacity of a regular DVD. But there is a caveat; the disks are still in early development and won't be ready for consumer or business prime time for at least two years.
Still, it is a noteworthy milestone in the data storage industry.
"This is significant," Brian Lawrence, manager of GE's holographic project, wrote in his blog. "Just imagine being able to put all this information on a disk."
The process works by imprinting chemical changes in the form of patterns-or holograms-within the disk. Those holograms are then read by lasers, which are similar to the ones in Blu-ray players.
The technology is still two or three years from mainstream availability, but Lawrence believes the optimization of this capacity opens the door to a list of possibilities.
"Think about all the information we encounter everyday. As our digital needs grow, so will our need for digital storage," Lawrence said. "This breakthrough puts us significantly closer to meeting that need."
In CDs, DVDs or BDs, the recording is done by making marks (or changes) in a thin recording layer in the disk, Lawrence said.
"These marks are typically made by changing the reflectivity of the recording layer; think of it as making microscopic damage spots in a mirror. In the case of holographic storage, we are creating chemical changes in microscopic patterns that will generate higher reflectivity when read by a low-power laser," Lawrence said.
"This is a more complicated process and requires that we create a material in which the refractive index can be changed when exposed to high laser power," Lawrence said.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...