Long way before Hitachi's glass storage chip realizes potential

While it has been touted to be able to store information for hundreds of millions of years, it faces steep hurdles with issues over fragility, laser technology usage and high costs.

Hitachi has developed a chip which can store data for a long time but industry watchers note while it has potential for usage in data centers and disaster recovery, its material fragility, usage of laser technology and high costs could hinder it from taking off with enterprises.

In September, Hitachi developed a glass chip which it said can preserve data for hundreds of millions of years.

The technology stores digital data on slivers of quartz material, which should can store this data "indefinitely" under almost any environmental condition without degradation, the company's vice president and CTO Hu Yoshida, noted in a blog post.

The current prototype is a 2 cm square by 2 mm thick piece, where data is recorded in 4 layers of dots, which can hold 40 MB per square inch--about the same as a standard CD, he stated the post.


While Hitachi had not announced any plans to put the chip to practical use, the chip could benefit large data stores which are unable to afford the power and floor space to retain their data with today's storage technologies, Yoshida said. "Even removable media like tape and optical, need power to maintain an environmentally controlled storage area," he said.

Hitachi's latest quartz chip has potential in finding applications for disaster recovery purposes and data centers, Wong Chee How, assistant professor for the division of engineering mechanics at Nanyang Technological University School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, observed.

This new technology could even be safer and data is less likely to be lost when used, compared to other chips because the data is stored on quartz--a more stable material, Ivan Lin, analyst at TrendForce Corporation, added.

Enterprise potential limited by fragility, cost
However, a suitable storage system for these devices will be needed because they are fragile, since they are made of glass, which makes them susceptible to easy breakage when the chips are dropped or knocked, he added.

Writing the data into the device also requires a laser beam which is usually not available outside the laboratory, and a special program, which is not readily available will be required to read the data, Wong noted.

"Unless the writing equipment or laser beam is available to write data into the chip on-the-fly, these chips are more suitable for storing data for archival purposes," he said.

Data stored on the chip is read-only, and cannot be modified easily, Wong pointed out. Its application will hence be limited to storing data that does not need to be modified such as movies, games or history archives for now, he explained.

Lin also agreed these factors, along with the chip's high costs, will hinder it from reaching the point of commercialization "in the near future". Otherwise, the chip will only be used for in the military, scientific research, museum and medical industry, Lin noted.

It is also likely the laser technology or special program used to write the data, material and manufacturing cost of the chip will be quite high since they are not conventionally used in chips, he explained.