Holographic storage: this could work

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.

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.


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.