October 2005 (Vol. 6, No. 10)
1541-4922/05/$31.00 © 2005 IEEE
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
A Tiger's Speed, an Elephant's Memory: Holographic Storage Ready for Market
|More, faster, longer|
|Material and cost challenges|
|Holographic vs. flash memory|
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Emerging holographic technologies offer the possibility of revolutionizing the way digital material is archived.
Emerging holographic technologies offer the possibility of revolutionizing the way digital material is archived. The holographic memory arena has progressed to the point where companies worldwide, such as Japan-based Optware Corporation ( http://www.optware.co.jp/english/) and InPhase Technologies ( http://www.inphase-technologies.com) in the US, are projecting consumer products will be on the market within a year.
What will the availability of holographic storage mean for consumers, and will holographic memory make dinosaurs of other digital storage forms?
More, faster, longer
An evermore media-savvy consumer market will almost certainly benefit from holographic memory, which promises more storage, faster transferability, and longer shelf life than what is currently available.
"This is the first optical technology that can compete with the data densities of tape," says Liz Murphy, VP of InPhase Technologies. InPhase estimates its holographic storage disk will initially accommodate 300 gigabytes of data. By 2010, the company predicts an increase to 1.6 terabytes. By contrast, a DVD stores approximately 5 Gbytes and a Blu-ray disk stores around 25 Gbytes.
"High data densities are achieved by recording data volumetrically," explains Murphy. "This allows you to store much more content."
Holographic transfer rates are expected to be in the range of 30 to 40 Mbytes per second—fast enough to compete against data tape. This is much faster than other optical technologies, such as CD, DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-ray. The maximum transfer rate for existing optical recording is 11 Mbytes/sec.
Media archival life is also a critical consideration for target applications. InPhase has been conducting accelerated aging tests for several years, and its developmental products currently specify a 50-year archive life. In addition, the media is robust and doesn't require controlled temperature and humidity environments.
Holographic storage appears to be security friendly. It supports optical data encryption at the hardware level. In addition, holographic data storage provides for write-once, read-many functionality, which protects archived data from being altered.
Material and cost challenges
According to Murphy, the primary challenge in bringing holographic memory to market has been the availability of a commercially viable holographic recording material. Materials for current InPhase products aren't rewritable. The company is developing rewritable material that it hopes to have market-ready by the end of 2007. It expects the first rewritable media and drive will be 300 Gbytes with a 20 Mbytes/sec transfer rate. In addition, InPhase has developed media that is sensitive to red laser wavelengths and targets consumer markets.
Murphy believes a holographic disk will cost about the same as the current high-end optical discs but will have much greater capacity. "Archive applications, which are our target market, require storing vast amounts of data and oftentimes the biggest expense is the cost of the media," she says. "So, costs are significantly reduced if 60 times more data can be stored at roughly the same cost as the older technology."
For Optware, the consumer segment is vital. The company has built prototypes and demonstrated feasibility to record and playback video. Their next step involves building a drive with production tolerances similar to DVD. The company, together with its partners, is currently planning production designs.
Holographic vs. flash memory
As holographic memory moves into the mainstream tech market, many wonder how it will impact flash technology and other digital storage tools. Will the market benefit from a little healthy competition?
The competition for the flash market will be nil, according to Hans J. Coufal, manager of device and systems innovation for science and technology at IBM's Almaden Research Center. "They are very different markets." Coufal expects the market to determine whether or not it likes holographic storage options once a real product is available in the next year or two.
Most experts agree that flash memory will continue to grow as a dominant storage method for low-capacity portable devices that download from the Internet.
"There is abundant room for new technologies in the semiconductor industry, including the memory segment," remarks Jon Kang, senior VP, technical marketing, of Samsung Semiconductor. "It is unlikely that any new technology over the next years would have a significant impact on the strong market growth of flash memory in mobile and other consumer applications."
Indeed, Samsung recently launched a NAND flash device with a 4-Gbyte memory. The company expects the device to account for more than 30 percent of total sales—upwards of US$8 billion—in the coming year.
Even so, holography has advantages over flash memory as a distribution media, and cost can always be a determining factor. According to Murphy, many companies view holographic storage as "a viable extension to their product line be it optical or tape." InPhase has already partnered with IBM, Sony, Sanyo, Toshiba, and Samsung.