GE backs 500GB holographic storage

GE backs 500GB holographic storage

Summary: It's been the Holy Grail of data storage since before the HAL 9000 in 2001. But holographic storage has proven hard to commercialize. Can GE finally make it happen?

SHARE:
19

Just last year richly funded InPhase Technologies died after blowing more than $100 million and years of R&D on holographic storage. But now General Electric - who used to be a technology company before financial services became a bubble growth industry - thinks they have a winner: a 500GB holographic storage disk that uses Blu-ray technology.

60 second guide to holography Holograms use 2 coherent laser beams - a reference beam and an illumination beam - to create an interference pattern that is recorded on photo sensitive media. Shine a laser on the pattern and the original image pops out in glorious 3D. As the laser moves around - or you do - you see the image from different perspectives.

Holographic storage has some neat properties.

  • A small fragment of a hologram can reconstruct the entire data image. A scratch isn’t fatal.
  • Data density is theoretically unlimited. By varying the angle between the reference and illumination beams - or the angle of the media - hundreds of holograms can be stored in the same physical area.
  • Photographic media has the longest proven lifespan - over a century - of any modern media. Since there’s no physical contact you can read the media millions of times with no degradation.

Out with the InPhase I haven't heard an insider's story on the the InPhase debacle, but I surmise the fundamental problem was the media: disk drive advances kept raising the bar for InPhase and they kept refining their media but could never keep up. Given the billion or so the drive industry spends on magnetic media, that's a real problem for any substitute medium.

But the drive industry is facing its own crisis: we're coming to the end of what the current generation of density-enhancing technologies can do; and the next gen is proving both technically difficult - like maybe it won't ever work - and very costly. So GE's timing may be better than InPhase, who started during a period of rapid areal density growth.

The GE solution GE has a different take on the problem: they've announced development of a micro-holographic material that records data at the same speed as Blu-ray disks - using Blu-ray-type technology. They envision holoburners that also read Blu-ray, DVD and CD formats.

GE is focused on licensing their micro-holographic material to other companies to productize. While the obvious market is archiving, they also believe there is a consumer market as well. And, they note, it doesn't have to go into a disk.

Maybe the HAL 9000's storage bars will make it to market yet.

The Storage Bits take By creating the media, GE has done the hardest part. But to get prices affordable for me and other ZDNet readers it has to become a consumer product.

Consumers are already suffering from Blu-ray cost fatigue, and it isn't clear that Blu-ray buyers are looking for more than 50GB. But if the material is cheap enough to produce and the modifications to Blu-ray players and burners aren't too costly the optical drive industry could get a new lease on life.

It won't be easy (see Optical storage: RIP) but if the media is stable enough for multi-decade archiving and cheap enough to deliver massive amounts of entertainment - "get all of Seinfeld on 1 disk!" - it could see a broad market.

I hope GE and friends can pull this off.

Gallery: GE develops 500GB holographic drive

Comments welcome, of course. On the other hand, Apple appears to be pulling optical out of its trend-setting products. GE better move fast.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Storage

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

19 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

    Day late and many GB short!

    With 3TB drives cheap and plentiful, who'd want this at a measly 0.5TB?

    Optical storage beyond the lowly CD has totally failed to deliver on price, performance, or reliability.
    wkulecz
    • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

      @wkulecz A .5TB DVD is a lot smaller and more durable than a 3TB hard drive. You can immerse it in water, drop it from 30 ft, or let it sit on your shelf for 50 years. And unlike cloud backup it's not subject to ISP usage caps.
      Ed Burnette
      • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

        @Ed Burnette or a subpoena for some child molestor's stuff that happens to be next to it.
        bc3tech
    • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

      @wkulecz yea but optical media has advantages over hard drives
      Jimster480
  • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

    Time is of the essence. If it takes 3 years to get this to market, HDDs will be at 6TB and much cheaper USB 3.0 thumb drives will be good sneakernet alternatives, leaving only the archive market.

    With downloading supplanting Blu-ray and DVDs in the mass market, most households will be out of the optical habit by mid-2014. They'll have an uphill battle.
    R Harris
    • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

      @R Harris There's definitely something to be said for permanent, local storage that's under direct control rather than something nebulous like the cloud, regardless of the price difference.
      darylsonnier
      • couldn't agree more

        <i>" ...There's definitely something to be said for permanent, local storage that's under direct control rather than something nebulous like the cloud, regardless of the price difference."</i><br><br>Someone who actually understands the risk management side of the equation. The whole sales pitch that is Cloud and SaaS is a false economy: it's the ultimate in conman-ship. <br><br>Essentially the cloud is this: <i>we'll charge you</i> to give us full control over your data <i>and you have absolutely no control</i> over availability or reliability of the service we provide ... oh, and by the way, we're going to put the charges up for you to use <i>your own data</i>, in the next quarter. Happy holidays!<br><br>So, it's really quite simple, some things you just cannot put a price tag on ... because, frankly, they're just far too valuable. It's kinda like anonymity: where you only realize how great it is when it's finally gone.
        thx-1138_
    • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

      @R Harris yea but you can still backup, and store media with this, meaning it will still be needed.
      Jimster480
  • Magnetic/electronic storage media is very unstable.....

    ...by nature. An EMP wipes it out. Optical storage CAN be very stable if the chemistry of the media is stable.
    I compare the two to creating a pattern using rows of dominos (which are very easy to change/disturb) or concrete where once cured is very difficult to change.
    kd5auq
  • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

    It must be really intresting for media companies, because 500GB movie would be hard or almost imposable to download from internet. It is another obsticle making piracy of original content more difficult. Yes, I know that it is possable to rip blueray movie into 50Mb mkv file.<br>I beleave that internet would destroy cable companies monopoly on content distribution and every news, sports chanel or soup opera studio would distribute its content directly over internet by passing major cable giants, but it would take very long time before small companies would be able to make expensive movies without funds of large production conglomerates. So the life of "optical" disk can be extended artificially for a long time.
    Nikolayev
    • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

      @Nikolayev - Any good business cable company will already be ahead of the curve. Most own large portions of the Internet backbone and they will simply evolve with the trends and still make oodles of money, just in a different way (i.e. Comcast, Rogers/Shaw in Canada, etc). So trust me, no well-run cable company will be going out of business!
      jboughton29
  • Good news

    I heard about technology about 6 years back and nice to see it making in-road to commercial product.
    Media backup is becoming snow-ball. Most of my previous backups were in DVD; which need rewriting on new disc every few years. Reliability is another major issue.
    With explosion of HD images and video; need for robust & quality archiving is increasing. I know several friends who purchased several TB of harddisks and need to keep multiple copies just in case.
    Most corporates use magnetic discs for this purpose because DVD or BD could not be reliable enough to trust in long run. We are talking about petabytes of data here. If this technology proves what it promises then it will certainly make major difference.
    p.vinnie@...
  • The Human Element

    There is one bit people always forget, people like having something they can hold. Something seen as reliable and rugged. When storing something valuable, would you prefer a 16ft blastproof door leading to a 30m thick concrete shielded room or an ex-janitors closet with a standard two-pin tumbler lock. People will always prefer something they have control over, something they have, rather than the cloud, or another outsource.<br><br>As for hard-drives, we're reaching the limitations aluminium. You can try to spin it as fast as you want but eventually you'll reach its melting point. SSD's suffer from write limits, typically lasting 10 years (high usage) now, as write speed increases, write limits decrease accordingly. Holographical write limits and overheat would be far out of our range for the next twenty-five to fifty years. I trust we would have thought of something better by then, according to Moore's law.<br><br>Another point is power consumption. Again, SSD's are better than rotating disks due to less moving parts. This is where i think GE are falling down. If they are Only developing Holographic media to replace optical discs, then they are not only bringing back that problem, but missing out on notebooks, netbooks, tablets, smartphones, and even some newer, low-end laptops and desktops.<br><br>If they are clever, they will be quietly developing, not a replacement for the common hard-drive, but for the Solid State drives that will overrun them.<br><br>In the mean time, a 500GB CD would be immensley useful.
    Lewis Goddard
  • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

    I agree, I use DVDs mostly still just because I cant justify the cost of blu-rays, You can just buy an HDD for cheaper.
    Ninja1507
  • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

    Of course, 500GB may only be the beginning of the size of the data stored. I myself would prefer to have archiving on an optical disk. I don't trust HDD to last and/or be compatible with future MB or disk controllers.
    lcplwilson@...
  • Doesn't have to be a disk

    Since this is optical storage, readers will be built that have NO moving parts. If the media is similar to a photographic negative (or positive) they had better find a way to prevent users from cutting it up with a scissor and becoming a mass distribution outlet!
    Once this technology is in place, I'm sure we will see the capacity increase again, possibly logarithmically!
    Look at the savings in physical storage space... We may be able to have several small distribution points, rather than thousands of libraries! This technology may also be applied to cybernetics and artificial brain development.
    Sounds like a bright future, if it is handled correctly...
    fiosdave
  • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

    I would be happy to replace my HDD with this optical drive. Only trouble is i need about 1T not 500 GB but its a start.
    Maybe i can put 2 of them in series? lol I would love to have one opt drive do all the reading of all my opt discs.
    This starts to sound better the more i think of it. Now get the cost down enough and i'll buy.
    rclark79
  • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

    I beleave that internet would destroy cable companies monopoly on content distribution and every news, sports chanel or soup opera studio would distribute its content directly over internet by passing major cable giants, but it would take very long time before small companies would be able to make expensive movies without funds of large production conglomerates. So the life of "optical" disk can be extended artificially for a long time.
    <a href="http://www.almeriaproperties.co.uk">Property News</a>
    <a href="http://www.myfacepillow.com">acne cure</a>
    <a href="http://www.graysongillinteriors.com">interior design</a>
    <a href="http://www.wikihorse.nl">Wikihorse Paarden</a>
    dejan001
  • RE: GE backs 500GB holographic storage

    I could see replacing my current HDD with this optical drive. Unfortunately I need more than 500 GB. That would be the only thing stopping me. Thanks for the information, from <a href="http://www.madbeetech.com">MadBeeTech web hosting</a>.
    JohnnyJ9