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Are holograms in your storage future?

Are holograms in your storage future?

Imagine storing 20,000 X-ray images on a disk the size of a credit card. That's one grand promise stirring up the buzz over holographic storage for the enterprise.

Hal Weiss, systems engineer with Baptist Memorial Healthcare in Tennessee, is one user following the holographic storage buzz. Weiss sees holographic storage as a means to handle the increasing amount of data - medical images and X-rays - he must archive to meet Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requirements.

"I'm interested in holographic storage for the simple fact that you can store just a huge amount of data in a small space and the retrieval times are enormously faster. I'm hearing that holographic storage can recover millions of bits of data a second and can sustain that reliably," says Weiss, who uses EMC's Centera, Copan Systems' Revolution 200T and a big DVD jukebox in his organization to store 48T bytes of data.

Analysts and enterprise users such as Weiss see a future in holographic disk technologies as archival, long-term storage media. Financial records and high-definition video used in broadcast media also are data types eyed for holographic storage.

Like other technologies such as Serial ATA, holographic storage has its roots in consumer-based products. The charge-coupled devices (CCD) and LCDs found in digital cameras are used in holographic storage to read the data back. The drives will be costly, but the price is expected to fall once more vendors adopt holographic storage.

Two approaches

Storage watchers hold out the most hope for a technology under development at InPhase Technologies, a Bell Labs spinoff. Called polytopic recording, this holographic approach records through the depth of the media in three dimensions. Holography records and reads 1 billion bits of data with each flash of light, InPhase says. To record a holographic image, a laser beam is split in two - the signal beam carries the data; the reference beam positions where the data is written and reads it. The data is arranged in a checkerboard pattern of light and dark pixels, each pixel being formed when the two beams intersect.

An InPhase Tapestry holographic disk will hold 60 times as much data as a DVD and write data as much as 10 times faster, the company says.

Conceived more than 50 years ago by a Hungarian physicist, this technology is finally coming to reality - InPhase earlier this year demonstrated a 300G-byte prototype at the National Association of Broadcasters using film provided by Turner Broadcasting System. Shipping technology is expected by September 2006, with a 1.6T-byte disk slated for delivery by 2009, the company says.

Collinear holography, a second approach to holographic storage, also is expected to result in DVD-sized terabyte-class storage devices. The technology, provided by Japanese vendor Optware, is as much as 40 times faster than traditional DVD, the company says. Optware expects to introduce a 200G-byte enterprise-class removable disk in June 2006, initially targeting healthcare organizations. The amount of digital data storage for this market will grow from about 167 petabytes in 2005 to 363 petabytes in 2007, said Yoshio Aoki, Optware president, at a press conference earlier this year.

While media vendors FujiFilm and Toshiba have adopted Optware's collinear holography technology, Hitachi Maxell and Pegasus Disk Technologies are developing products that use InPhase's polytopic recording technique.

Skeptical technology?

Not everyone is sold on the potential of holographic storage. Randy Kerns, an independent storage analyst in Colorado, worries about a host of issues, including how long the data can be preserved. (InPhase says at least 50 years on its technology.) "The densities are not that impressive yet and neither is the capacity. Assuming the persistence problem is fixed, will the densities and capacities be a step function improvement? Just a little better won't be enough to justify change," he says.

Even Baptist Memorial's Weiss expresses concerns. "Before I even entertain using holographic storage, I want to know how long the data can remain in that state and how easy it is to recover. And is it going to be totally proprietary? Both vendors use the same words to describe their technologies, but they don't mean the same thing."

To address the proprietary issue, Optware, FujiFilm and CMC Magnetics, among others, formed the Holographic Versatile Disk Alliance to work on standardization. And, in January, Optware submitted its technology to industry association Ecma International as the basis of a proposed standard.

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More about ACTBell LabsCMC MagneticsECMAEMC CorporationFujifilmFujifilmHISHitachi AustraliaInPhase TechnologiesLaserMaxellOptwarePegasusPromiseToshibaTurner Broadcasting System

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