Holographic storage debuts next month

by Robin Harris on Sunday, 20 April, 2008

After 8 years of hard slogging the folks at InPhase are ready to ship the world’s first holographic storage system.

As StorageMojo noted 2 years ago:

InPhase is claiming they will ship drives with removable holographic disks with 300GB capacity and 20Mbps transfer rate later this year.

I love holographic technology and wish InPhase the best, but I don’t believe they have a viable business with their technology – yet. The problem: 3.5″ disk drives will reach 750GB by the end of this year with much faster transfer rates. InPhase’s 20 Mbps is only 2.5 million bytes per second or only 9GB per hour. It will take over 30 hours just to fill one disk! I predict that hard drives will still be more convenient and fairly cost-competitive than this promising new technology.

But keep at it guys. Lightning will strike if your investors are patient enough.

So what’s different now? They’re saying they will ship next month instead of “later.” The transfer rate is 20 MB/sec. And the media archive life is 50 years – higher density and longer life than tape.

Limited availability until fall
I saw a unit – not sure it was functional – at NAB last week. Marketing VP Liz Murphy gave me the pitch, about 110 seconds of which you can watch here:

The yellow plastic on the drive is for display purposes. Note the nifty see-through media.

Target market
As befits a small company with an $18,000 holographic drive whose media is quantity 1 $180 a copy, InPhase has a sharp focus on people who need a 50 year archive life. Like film studios, whose film-based archives are bulky and subject to the vagaries of physical chemistry.

The media price is reasonable – compared to Blu-ray. NewEgg has TDK 25 GB blu-ray media for $17. 12x that – to get 300 GB – is $204. Plus the clutter. The burners are cheaper though.

Why did it take 8 years?
InPhase had to literally invent almost every piece of the system.

  • The optical media.
  • The manufacturing process for fabricating thick, optically-flat and high-dynamic range media.
  • The mathematics and circuitry needed to use digital camera CMOS chips for high-speed and high-accuracy image reconstruction.
  • A new method – polytopic multiplexing – for a 10x density increase.
  • Holographic mastering techniques for commercial reproduction.

For example, in order to use commercial, l.e. affordable, CMOS optical sensors to read the holograms, InPhase engineers had to do a deep dive (pdf) into optical information theory:

For holographic data storage it is advantageous to limit the spatial bandwidth of the object beam to only slightly higher than the Nyquist frequency of the data pattern. Typically an aperture in a Fourier plane is used to band limit the data beam (thereby also minimizing the size of the holograms in a Fourier-transform geometry). The data pattern may contain at most 1 cycle/2 data image pixels, so that the Nyquist frequency of the optical field of the object beam is minimally 1 sample/pixel. However, since the spectrum of the irradiance pattern is the auto-correlation of the spectrum of the optical field, the Nyquist frequency of the detectable signal is actually 2 linear samples/pixel minimum. Thus any method relying on less than 4 detector elements/data image pixel is operating in a sub-Nyquist regime where the Nyquist rate is defined with respect to the actual irradiance pattern impinging on the detector.

As Liz noted, you can’t hire experienced holographic storage engineers. InPhase has trained every one of them.

The StorageMojo take
Kudos to InPhase for a magnificent achievement. This is comparable to IBM’s original RAMAC disk effort back in 1957. They all deserve to get rich.

15 years ago a 3x CD reader cost a few hundred dollars. Perhaps in 15 years holographic burners will be $50 and the media less than a $1.

Learn more about the technology at the InPhase Technologies web site.

Comments welcome, of course. See a more accessible version of this article on my ZDnet blog, Storage Bits.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Todd April 20, 2008 at 11:20 pm

While it’s nice to see a product finally emerge, I’m not sure that it’s much of a threat to existing media yet.

$0.60/GB is kind of pricey compared with contemporary commodity disk (at $0.20/GB and falling even for quantity-one retail purchases – I have no idea how cheaply you can buy it in real quantity, though for personal use have stopped looking at anything above $0.15/GB since such deals come along pretty frequently).

And for archiving – well, I just ordered 100 Taiyo Yuden 8x DVD-Rs for $24, shipped, which works out to about $0.05/GB for a medium that should last well over 50 years with proper storage (yeah, I would have had to pay about $0.085/GB for 16x discs that would match the 20 MB/sec bandwidth of the holographic product). There is, of course, something to be said for not having to manage so many individual discs for truly large archives, but then there’s also something to be said for using a medium that already has jukebox-style products available for handling such problems).

So while the achievement is significant, whether it will be *commercially* significant will strongly depend upon how fast it can slide down the price curve: the competition is tough and will only become tougher.

– bill

Harold April 21, 2008 at 3:17 am

Bill Todd: at that price, it sounds like you’re getting Taiyo Yuden “Value” DVD-Rs. (Please correct me if I’m wrong and tell me your distributor. 🙂 Their normal line from my preferred distributor costs $4.50 more right now, and at quantity 100 good Taiyo Yuden CD-Rs cost a dollar more (a year ago they were only one dollar under the normal DVD-Rs).

I’ve got an acquaintance with 17 years in the hard disk industry and a fist full of patents including 3 that are using in every hard drive you own. She says that from her observations Taiyo Yuden Value DVD-Rs are garbage and that the good Taiyo Yuden DVD-Rs with which they made their reputation there are marginal for anything you might want to keep past a year. She only uses MAM-A gold archival DVDs for critical stuff and burns two at a time with plenty of redundancy since in her (and my) observation they deteriorate faster than good CD-R media (TY or MAM). Those go for $216 for 100 from our favorite distributor.

I’m sufficiently paranoid that I’ve stuck with Taiyo Yuden CD-Rs since I stopped using the now out of production Kodak Gold CD-R media from the ’90s (whatever Kodak is selling now is I believe private label), and I haven’t lost a TY CD-R yet, although I’ve not done statistically significant checks on my older discs burned in this century.

If you’re REALLY paranoid, you use MAM-A gold CD-R media, which are at $133 for 100 from the same MAM-A distributor mentioned above. None of us are willing to touch recordable Blue-ray yet.

If I was a film studio, it would take me a while to trust a brand new media with an unknown track record, and a very long while for a single source, we know there are going to be readers available for CD, DVD and Blue-ray media for a very long time. Plus if I was in their shoes I wouldn’t use just one type of media for a total long term archival solution.

– Harold

Christoph April 21, 2008 at 12:11 pm

I’m not sure there is an archive storage market at this price level. For professional archives tape technology is well-known, proven and much cheaper: a STK T10000 tape cartridge with a capacity of 500 GB uncompressed costs ~$150. While tape lives for up to 25 years data archives still need to be copied to new media / tape technology regularly and I can’t imagine why this should suddenly change with holographic storage…

Bill Todd April 22, 2008 at 4:34 am

Yup, they’re the TY value line discs, but their reputation is good AFAICT (I’d pay a lot more attention to your friend’s opinion if her experience were in optical rather than magnetic rotating media). As far as I could determine their media code should be TYG01 or TYG02 (I’ll check it when they arrive), which are in the top tier of products according to http://www.digitalfaq.com/media/dvdmedia.htm. The 16x premium TY discs at $40/100 were TYG03s (all from Meritline, which generally seems to have about the best prices I’ve found for TY discs and no reputation for palming off counterfeits, though these days it’s still sensible to check the media codes on what you get).

I don’t burn enough to have my own opinions with regard to quality, and in fact have little enough experience with burning CDs, let alone DVDs. But my impression is that TY value line discs use archival-quality ink and that their premium discs are definitely considered archival quality – so am not inclined to change my earlier observations about the premium line at the $0.085/GB price point even if those at the $0.05/GB value line price point may be debatable (and their price for TYG02 8x premium TY discs is only $0.067/GB if the 16x speed isn’t required).

As for redundancy, you need that with *any* medium. When whole-disc failure is the issue, then relative quality doesn’t matter as much: physical destruction can happen just as easily to high-end media as to low-end media. When spot drop-outs are the issue, it’s more like the BER problem in magnetic disks: the chance that two copies will have drop-outs in the same location is minuscule even with less-than-highest-end media. So as long as the media quality isn’t execrable you need either two copies (if you’re not worried about a disc getting physically broken) or three copies – and, of course, you need to check them every once in a while to make sure that they’re still completely readable. (Actually, if you incorporate some additional parity-based redundancy when you record the discs, that may guard against spot drop-outs sufficiently that just two copies could be considered sufficient even to cover the risk that one will be destroyed.)

– bill

Hirni April 23, 2008 at 3:45 am

My personal problem with InPhase is, that they announced the product-availability “soon” since 2003 or 2004 !
complete vapurware…

hirni August 8, 2008 at 2:17 am

As a follow-up – and as expected “shipping soon” – now for over a decade.
Latest news suggest, that it’s now August-2008 – and still vapourware:
…but it will “ship soon” 🙂

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