Holographic Storage on the Horizon

Holographic storage may be closer than it appears, say component vendors.

System administrators who perform nightly backups to optical or tape libraries may soon need to check their mirrors: a newer medium, holographic storage, is closer than it appears, component vendors say.

Holography stores data by using multiple light beams to create chemical reactions. The result is data thats smaller and more permanent than laser-induced ridges and valleys, and as fast or faster than magnetic electron flopping. For users, that means consolidation is possible due to higher capacities, and the chance of corruption during data restores decreases.

InPhase Technologies Inc. will announce progress on this front at the National Association of Broadcasters 2003 conference, next week in Las Vegas.

Bill Wilson, chief scientist at InPhase, of Longmont, Colo., said first-generation holographic drives would appear as standard interfaces to existing libraries and servers. It wont be until successive generations that existing storage technology will be able to exploit holographic datas unique characteristics, he told eWEEK in a recent interview. A basis for that second generation will be rewriteable media, which InPhase is working to develop as part of a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technologys Advanced Technology Program. Explaining the challenge, Wilson said, "You want to have a material thats easy to write, you want to have a material thats easy to erase. Those two things are mutually exclusive."

Another holographic vendor, Aprilis Inc., is conducting media research. Todays holographic media is just 400 microns thick—16 one-thousandths of an inch—said John Berg, CEO, in Maynard, Mass. That can hold about 200GB, he said, which is impressive compared to conventional hard drives but meager compared to modern optical and tape media. Thicknesses of 800 microns, expected in 2005, will store up to a terabyte, he said. Customers include Sony Corp., of Tokyo, plus divisions of Daewoo Group and Samsung Group, both of Seoul, he said.

A unique aspect of Aprilis technology is the ability to multiplex data using several different methods. Aprilis last month acquired licenses to 16 patents from former holographic specialist Holoplex Technologies Inc., of Pasadena, Calif. By having different multiplexing methods, drives can be tweaked for the best performance, highest density, lowest cost, or combinations of those attributes, Aprilis officials said.

The patents also cover solid state and disk architectures, servo and alignment methods, optical correlation and media replication, they said.

Such technology will find its way into storage for data thats written in large quantities but rarely extracted for changes, much like the new generation of ATA-based appliances, such as EMC Corp.s Centera, Network Appliance Inc.s NearStore, and Storage Technology Corp.s BladeStore, InPhases Wilson noted. Holographic technology so far only moves large amounts of data at a time, so its less useful for transaction data, he explained.

InPhase has Sony as a customer as well, officials said. Related to the drive research, Sony is developing a holographic ROM system, in which a 100GB media could be copied in less than a minute, a U.S.-based spokeswoman said.

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