On track for terabyte discs: Making computer data storage cheaper, easier

Oct 09, 2012

Businesses and consumers may soon have a simple, cheaper way to store large amounts of digital data. Case Western Reserve University researchers have developed technology aimed at making an optical disc that holds 1 to 2 terabytes of data – the equivalent of 1,000 to 2,000 copies of Encyclopedia Britannica. The entire print collection of the Library of Congress could fit on five to 10 discs.

The discs would provide small- and medium-sized businesses an alternative to storing data on energy-wasting or cumbersome magnetic tapes, the researchers say. To push technology to market, the leaders of the effort have launched a company.

"A disc will be on the capacity scale of magnetic tapes used for archival data storage," said Kenneth Singer, the Ambrose Swasey professor of physics, and co-founder of Folio Photonics. "But, they'll be substantially cheaper and have one advantage: you can access data faster. You just pop the disc in your computer and you can find the data in seconds. Tapes can take minutes to wind through to locate particular data."

Since 2007, when data generated worldwide first exceeded the amount of data that could be stored, the need for cheaper, more manageable storage has only grown.

To load what is the equivalent of 50 commercially available Blu-ray discs on a single, same-size disc, the scientists use similar optical . But, instead of packing more data on the surface – which is why Blu-ray movies are sharper than DVD's - they write data in dozens of layers; not the two or four layers used in Blu-rays.

Here's how:

Using technology first developed by the Center for Layered Polymeric Systems at Case School of Engineering, Singer and Valle, in collaboration with their colleague Professor Eric Baer, make an optical film with 64 .

A thick, putty-like flow of polymers is repeatedly divided and stacked, then spread into a film and rolled onto a spool. They estimate they can make a square kilometer of film in an hour.

To make the final product, the researchers cut and paste film onto the same hard plastic base DVDs and Blu-rays are built on.

Valle said they need to make only slight adjustments to a standard disc reader to enable it to probe and read the data on each layer without interference from layers above or below.

Singer and Valle founded Folio Photonics last week, after spending much of the summer at an entrepreneurial boot camp. During the National Science Foundation's Innovation-Corps program, with sessions at Georgia Tech, they and physics lecturer Bruce Terry interviewed 150 potential customers, partners and suppliers, and underwent days and evenings of business and commercialization training.

"We learned in two months what some start-ups learn only through failing," Valle said.

The Case Western Reserve scientists aren't the only ones pursuing terabyte-storage discs. Other companies are "looking into a holographic technology, which requires two lasers to write the data and will require a whole new writer/reader," Singer said. "Ours has the advantage of lower manufacturing costs and is more compatible with current readers and writers."

The discs are aimed at storing data that isn't needed instantaneously or often, but is valuable enough to keep.

Singer and Valle are specifically looking to provide an affordable option to computer centers that now regularly purge data due to the prohibitive costs of current storage technologies.

They are also trying to fill increasing needs in the fields of pathology and genomics. Pathologists are starting to store not just slides of tissues but the digital images they make, which can be manipulated to gather more information about disease or damage. With the plummeting costs of genetic sequencing, companies and institutions are generating enormous amounts of data and are seeking alternative ways to archive the data.

Folio Photonics will be based in the Cleveland area. Singer and Valle hope to have prototype discs and readers to show within a year.

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User comments : 9

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1 / 5 (1) Oct 09, 2012
How long will the data keep? It's no fun to access a CD or DVD backup you made 10 years ago and find it can't be read. Floppies from back then are even worse. So far, I am keeping all my data on external magnetic discs about 10TB in size, not trusting optical.
1 / 5 (5) Oct 09, 2012
People have been promising holographic storage with no actual product for as long as the AGW cult has been lying about it warming after 1998.

"Jun 19, 1998

US researchers believe they have solved a major problem with holographic storage systems ... "

4.5 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2012
"1,000 to 2,000 copies of Encyclopedia Britannica"??? we need a new baseline. I haven't seen a Britannica in twenty years!
1.5 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2012
OK, although I view this and other scientific discoveries as a great step forward (and I could use one of those a week), and that might sound naive a bit but, why is it researchers working for Universities with both private and public funding ALWAYS get the patents, create a company and sell the products based on their discoveries? I cringe every times I read a story about a new discovery or major advancement and they are set to reap all the rewards. Shouldn't the people who actually funded the research and the University be part owner of the patents? I mean, if there's federal/state/university/private funding that paid for 100% of the discovery, why don't they get the joint patents and reap the benefits when the researchers were paid a full salary/pension while working on this?

5 / 5 (1) Oct 09, 2012
I have been reading about holographic memories since the 1980s
not rated yet Oct 10, 2012
why is it researchers working for Universities with both private and public funding ALWAYS get the patents, create a company and sell the products based on their discoveries?

I can tell you why this is: Your perception about stuff like this skewed.

You never hear about the times when the results just go back to the company that (partially) funded the project (and the cases where the research project dosn't result in something useful)
These are the VAST majority of cases.

But sometimes this happens: You have a project (funded by taxes and/or a company) and along the way you have an idea/discover something that isn't in the TIP (technology implementation plan). Whose is it?

Universities today aren't just places for learning but also places where people can develop ideas to the point where it makes sense to start up a company (that came out of the cry for more 'application oriented' work by universities over the past decades).
not rated yet Oct 10, 2012
1,000 to 2,000 copies of Encyclopedia Britannica"??? we need a new baseline. I haven't seen a Britannica in twenty years!

Did you know that in just the past few weeks, Britannica announced that they will no longer have a printed copy? They are going completely digital. The end of an era.

why is it researchers working for Universities with both private and public funding ALWAYS get the patents, create a company and sell the products based on their discoveries?

As an example, my state of South Carolina is desperately trying to improve employment and income per capita. One of the best ways to do that is with small to medium start-up companies. The government is willing to grant money for applied research that results in a start-up company. The governemt hopes to see a return in the form of tax revenue. This model is what created silicon valley, so we know it works. If you foster enough potential start-ups, a percentage of them will succeed.
Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (1) Oct 11, 2012
Yeah - cost effective permanent storage that essentially does not degrade, has astronomically fast write and read rates, and is cheap enough to recycle / overwrite unlimited times so that the disks or modules come in 5, 20, 50, 100, 250, 500 or 1000 terror bite scalable units.

I'd be up for that.

Much of what Seagate and Western Digital have been putting out are shit.
not rated yet Oct 15, 2012
Shouldn't the people who actually funded the research and the University be part owner of the patents?
What quite frequently happens with university-funded or -sponsored research, is that the university winds up either the official owner or co-owner of the resulting patents. When start-ups are spun off, the university ends up cross-licensing the patents and/or co-owning the startups. Ultimately, the university gets its share of any financial windfalls, which at least theoretically go to defray costs of further research and other ongoing costs for the university (e.g. employee pensions.) In the meantime, the public at large benefits from development and deployment of new technologies, and associated (usually) high-tech jobs with knock-on benefits to local economies.