Sunday, November 27, 2005

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before...

Found via these four physics blogs, a Register article saying that Maxell will be offering holographic storage developed by InPhase Technologies by late 2006. 300GB, 20MB/sec. (what's the access time?), roadmap to 1.6TB/disk.

Creating a new, removable, random-access, high-performance storage medium is really hard. For optical things, the readers/writers tend to be expensive; to amortize that cost and get competitive GB/$, you want to make it removable, which means you have to lock in a data format for years, which hurts your density growth (while fixed magnetic disks are growing at 60-100%/year), makes more complex mechanics, makes it harder to keep the head on track, and makes serious demands on interoperability of readers and writers. The heavier optical heads make fast seek times problematic, too.

Good luck to them. I hope they have better luck than ASACA (where I'm proud to say I worked on just such a difficult project; I'm sad to say it failed, but the company still does well with autochangers for many media types), Terastor (whose website claims $100M in development generated 90 patents; too bad no successful drives/media came out), Quinta (now completely gone, as far as I can tell; absorbed back into Seagate?), Holoplex (gone), Tamarack (gone?), and a host of others did on high-speed magneto-optical, near-field magneto-optical, and holographic storage media.

I can only think of five successful removable, rotating media types: three sizes of floppy disk, CDs, and DVDs. You might throw in the first MO (600MB) and one or two types of removable hard disk, if you're generous. The newer optical media require long lead time, large corporate consortia, and enormous standards, marketing, and manufacturing efforts.

Will this finally be holographic storage's breakthrough? Stay tuned...

[Update: Sam Coleman, one of the gods of supercomputer mass storage and hierarchical mass storage, says he first saw holographic storage in 1979, and delivery was promised in eighteen months. Sam found this page with a little such history on it.]


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