Holographic storage: this could work

Holographic storage: this could work

Summary: After burning through $100 million, holographic storage startup InPhase folded several years ago. hVault is rebooting the technology, and they've learned from the InPhase debacle.

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hVault is here at NAB 2012, the premier show for broadcast and video production, with a pitch aimed directly at video media companies: we have a technology that will store and protect your digital media for 50 years at cost lower than disk and tape.

Really?

Economics 101 If the costs aren't right, the rest is pool. hVault's pitch is that with holographic storage you don't have the power, cooling and replacement costs of disks, making the TCO - Total Cost of Ownership - 1/100th the cost of disk. Versus tape they win because there aren't tape replacement costs every 2-3 years because holographic media is spec'd with a 50 year life.

Plus the holodisks are insensitive to heat, light, water, temperature, magnetism, EMP and humidity. Clearly, the holodisks are key.

Holodisk technology If you've ever lost data written on a writable CD or DVD, you may be skeptical. And you should be.

Unlike the unstable chemical dyes used in DVDs and writeable Blu-ray, the holodisk technology is more like black and white film - which has a proven life of over 100 years. A light-sensitive photo-sensitive polymer is written with lasers - like standard holograms - and after it is "developed" it becomes stable and inert - like B&W film.

The writeable layer is protected between 2 tough plastic shells that shield the film layer from greasy fingers and the environment. The data is further protected by powerful ECC.

In accelerated life testing that simulated 50 years of wear and tear, the media did not have a single failure. That's way better than disk or tape.

Product strategy InPhase never managed to ship a product, a fate hVault is determined to avoid. The focus is building the holodrives into a range of robotic libraries like those tape vendors have sold for decades.

The goal: plug and play integration with current interconnects and archive software.

Update: Since the products aren't released and some engineering evaluations are going on, hVault wasn't able to commit to any specs. But the last InPhase cartridge was 300GB - 3x larger than the quad-layer Blu-ray that is supposed to start shipping this year - with a 20MB/sec read/write speed that is slower than tape, but with random access that tape can't match.

As for pricing, hVault intends to offer libraries in 3 sizes ranging in price from under $50k to over $250k depending on number of media slots and drives. No idea on what media will cost, but it will have to be in the ballpark of LTO 5 tapes. End update.

Problems? Many. Product and media costs will be high until volumes grow. Convincing prospects that the media is as good as hVault claims is another challenge. Initial specs are low compared to LTO tape.

And there are the usual problems of getting customers and managing burn rate.

The Storage Bits take You can put a book on a library shelf and take it down 500 years later and read it. There is no digital equivalent.

Our digital civilization requires a cheap and robust digital storage medium. Tape isn't it, nor is disk. Holographic storage is the best alternative I've seen.

If hVault can finish the engineering and get product out the door, they'll do fine. Once they start the market will find them.

This isn't a consumer technology, but with the move to cloud even consumers will benefit if providers adopt the technology. And who know? Maybe someday we'll have little holodrives for home use.

Comments welcome, of course. I wish them luck. I'll be following them closely.

Topics: CXO, Banking, Hardware, Storage

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6 comments
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  • Holographic Storage

    I hope this is true and not just hype.
    I need more (permanent) storage.
    lehnerus2000
  • More Info

    This is news to me. I'd love to see more info or perhaps some links to more info on how this technology works. Maybe even a comparison chart. For example, it seems that holographic storage is read-only. How would you compare a holographic "disk" to a Blue-Ray disk storage-wise, price-wise, size-wise, etc?
    dvanderwerken
    • Good questions

      Good questions. I've update the post to give some answers.
      R Harris
  • easiest method to making money on the holo-technology

    the best usage for this would be complete deduplication of the world's data on a block level, then they would only need to have reference tables to recreate any file, without having to actually backup any data, as it would already be secured in the holodrives. Then the company would only have to offer the application and service providing the data mapping to their already constructed backups. Similar to Backblaze.
    aiellenon
    • Comparison to current optical disks

      The hVault disks will be WORM (Write once, Read many), be between 300GB and 500GB at introduction and will have an archival life of in excess of 50 years. Since the disks don't spin, but are positioned from spot to spot with each spot holding a 1.5Mb holographic data array, the power consumption of the drives is much lower than hard drives. Read write speeds at introduction will be in the order of 20MB per second. The drives will typically be sold in robotic cabinets that hold from 2 to 4 drives and up to 540 disks.
      blandm
  • Complete Hype...

    I used to work at Inphase as an engineer. I can 100% assure anyone here that this is just hype. The technolgy is really cool, but quite a few years out. Their building is empty...they ripped off too many employees to ever really get anything going again here in Colorado.
    storall