One of the new faces at this week’s National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas is a startup vendor promising a more in-depth and longer-lasting way to store data — holographic storage. This is only the latest attempt to bring the technology to market — will it catch on this time?
The company, hVault, says it will develop and market the first commercially available archive systems based on holographic technology, which supports multiple layers of encoded data, imprinted and extracted by laser. The vendor says holographic disks have a potential lifespan of more than 50 years, versus the two to three years for current magnetic disks. Additional advantages include lower power consumption, and insensitivity to temperature, humidity, or electromagnetic fields, the vendor says.
It’s not clear what the capacity of holographic systems disks would be, but Sebastian Anthony of Extreme Tech estimates that the system supports about 4 gigabits per cubic millimeter, or about 2.5 terabits per square inch — far exceeding even the densest disks out today.
The first application area targeted is electronic media that includes video, but hVault believes there are enormous benefits for any business with increasing storage need. Potential customers include anyone either requiring digital storage of videos, high-resolution imaging, or large data storage needs.
An explanation of how holographic storage works is found at the InPhase Technology site (now owned by hVault): “Light from a single laser beam is split into two beams, the signal beam (which carries the data) and the reference beam. The hologram is formed where these two beams intersect in the recording medium… a spatial light modulator (SLM) translates the electronic data of 0s and 1s into an optical ‘checkerboard’ pattern of light and dark pixels. The data are arranged in an array or page of over one million bits…. At the point where the reference beam and the data carrying signal beam intersect, the hologram is recorded in the light sensitive storage medium. A chemical reaction occurs, causing the hologram to be stored. By varying the reference beam angle or media position hundreds of unique holograms are recorded in the same volume of material.”
In order to then read stored data, InPhase explains, “the reference beam deflects off the hologram thus reconstructing the stored information. This hologram is then projected onto a detector that reads the entire data page of over one million bits at once.” Thus, data is recorded via multiple images in the same area utilizing light at different angles.
Holographic storage has actually been around for a few years, but has had mixed results in the marketplace. For example, a system was first introduced in 2008 by InPhase Technologies. The vendor spent $100 million for storage research and development, only to run out of money in 2010, according to Mashable’s Emily Price. At that time, hVault purchased InPhase’s technology.
hVault says it is developing a holographic disk storage system for archival applications, including both single drive autoloaders and multi-drive libraries.