Are optical drives dead? New and not so new technologies for archival data storage

Cheap 1TB multi-layer optical disc

Just the other day it became known that Folio Photonics, which, by the way, has been around for about 10 years, offers a new type of data storage. More precisely, like new – this is an optical disc, but multilayered, this technology is called DFD. According to the developers, the disks are relatively easy to manufacture, convenient to store, plus such a “data bank” is not subject to electromagnetic effects.

The new format is called Active, which is important – the discs are rewritable, so they can be used many times. The company claims a capacity of 1 TB, plus it also made specialized cartridges that work simultaneously with 10 disks.

The expected read speed is about 365 MB / s, nothing is known about the write speed yet. Now the technology is in the experimental stage, so in the next few months, new drives will not go on sale. But it seems like there is progress in the development of this project – pilot production is scheduled for 2024. The cost of one drive, according to company representatives, will be only $5, which is much cheaper than all other drives. True, of course, there would still be to know the price of the drives themselves – cartridges. If they cost as much as a downed Boeing, then there is no point in such technology.

But the company claims that everything will be available, plus storing data on such disks, subject to their archival use, will be cheaper than when working with an HDD. Archival hard drives are claimed to consume about 80% more power, other things being equal.

The technology itself is not for ordinary users, but for companies that need to store huge amounts of data, while preferably with a low cost of storage and operation. The company also claims that the life of one such disc is about 100 years, they, of course, are not affected not only by the electromagnetic field, but also by water, high (relatively) and low temperatures.

As for the mass availability of disks, and not experimental devices, the company plans to produce them by 2026. Here, of course, one can recall the history of teaching a donkey to speak, when “either the donkey dies or the padishah dies”, but still I would like to hope for the best. Alternative technologies are not bad at all.

Not Folio Photonics single. There are also 700 TB optical drives

Yes, similar projects are announced by other companies. So, just a year ago, a joint team of engineers and scientists from the Shanghai Polytechnic University and the Melbourne Institute of Technology announced the development of a laser disk with a capacity of 700 TB.

Scientists, with the support of colleagues from the National University of Singapore, were able to fit a typical 700 TB data volume on a disk. The disc diameter is 120mm, the current standard for virtually all optical discs, including CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray.

At the moment, the most capacious is a four-layer Blu-ray disc, which holds 128 GB of data. A standard single-layer Blu-ray disc allows you to record no more than 25 GB of information on it. It turns out that one new disc replaces 28,000 single-layer Blu-ray discs at once.

As for hard drives and SSDs, the most capacious of them can accommodate several tens of terabytes of data. But, as far as we know, the contenders for leadership have not yet reached the 100 TB mark. And here – just 700 terabytes.

The main secret here is in the material on which the recording is made. This is not a metal thin foil, but a composite material. Scientists do not reveal all the secrets, as they plan to commercialize the technology. But it is known that this is a nanocomposite based on special particles with the addition of lanthanide with “flakes” of graphene oxide.

Another feature is continuous lasers. In all other cases, pulsed lasers are used.

The technology developed by scientists can be used in the mass production of optical media. True, the authors of the development have not yet talked about at least an approximate order of prices, or about how much money and other resources are needed to start production. Well, as if a year has passed since the announcement of the project, and things are still there. Probably, the development remained on the list of experiments that are unlikely to get out “into people.”

And then there’s quartz!

For about 10 years, several teams of scientists in different countries have been working in parallel on the technology of recording data on a quartz carrier. It first became known in 2013. Then the inventors talked about the fact that in the “memory crystals” of quartz, information is recorded with five different characteristics. These include three-dimensional coordinates, orientation, and volume. The last two characteristics are set using the polarization and intensity of the laser beam.

Among the commercial companies involved in such a project are Microsoft and Warner Bros. They were able to create a 75×75 mm quartz storage device with a thickness of 2 mm. It is worth noting that this technology is not for ordinary users, not for distribution to home media libraries. Rather – for corporations, and the drive can store data for millions of years.

Despite the fact that the technology is still developing, it happens in the bowels of the research departments of these companies. So far, it has not been widely used either, but the complexity of working with the media and the cost of recording and reading devices probably play an important role here.

In general, there are other companies that are developing optical storage technologies. But these are even less well-known projects that so far exist in the form of scientific papers and the very first experimental models. Of course, I would like to hope that one of the projects mentioned above will still “shoot” and be able to change the current configuration of the data storage market.

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