Data Storage: Cheaper And Easier With Photonics

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online
As technology grows and components shrink, data storage usually follows suit, with ever-increasing capacities being packed into the tiniest of spaces.
It´s an interesting paradigm, for sure.
Though their needs are drastically different, consumers, researchers and scientists alike ask for the same thing: More available space packed in a smaller package. The rapid advancement in this area has already given many pause to contemplate how a handful of megabytes was once considered precious real estate. These days, the same amount of data is instantly streamed and then forgotten on our smartphones.
And though we´ve come a long way since the early days of data storage, the push towards more on less trudges ever onward, ensuring one day soon we´ll look back and remember when we thought the idea of storing the whole of the Library of Congress on only 5 compact discs was simply crazy.
Thanks to a new technology developed by Case Western Reserve University researchers, this kind of massive storage on a tiny optical disk could be possible in coming years. With this new technology, optical discs could be capable of bearing the weight of 1 to 2 TERABYTES of data, providing not only an easier and more flexible way of storing data, but a cheaper way as well.
Compact discs, DVDs and Blu-Rays are, and always will be, cheaper to buy than spinning drives, and cheaper to read and maintain as well.
To jumpstart this technology and get it into the hands of small and medium sized businesses sooner, these researchers have launched a company called Folio Photonics.
“A disc will be on the capacity scale of magnetic tapes used for archival data storage,” explains Kenneth Singer, Ambrose Swasey professor of physics and co-founder of Folio Photonics, in a press release.
“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.”
The technology to be used by Folio Photonics isn´t much different from that used to create and write Blu-Ray discs: The data is actually stored in layers on the disc, as opposed to being spread out on a flat surface. Blu-Ray discs are able to get much more data and, therefore, sharper images because they can cram this information in a smaller place, then stack layers of this information on top of one another.
Folio Photonics will use a similar method, writing large amounts of data on each individual layer, then stacking them dozens of layers high. To make these layers, a machine melts down polymers into a film, then repeatedly divides and stacks this film on top of itself, similar to how the dough for a croissant is made. The team at Folio Photonics say they´re able to produce a square kilometer of this stacked film in under an hour.
The data is then written on this film and pasted onto the familiar plastic base all CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays are built upon.
The team also say they only need to make minor adjustments to a standard disc reader in order for these layered discs to be able to be read. According to their introductory video, these layers are able to be pierced with the optical laser and read with very little interference from the other layers, resulting in a clear, sharp image with very little signal-to-noise ratio.
Folio Photonics plans their discs to be used by companies who regularly dump their data to make room for more data, but need to continue archiving backups.