Long-term storage at Storage Visions 2013

by Robin Harris on Friday, 18 January, 2013

No CES for me this year, but did attend Storage Visions 2013. Some cool stuff there.

Panasonic’s Blu-ray RAID archive robot
Panasonic has a Blu-ray-based storage system that looks interesting. Imagine 12 Blu-ray discs in the striped RAID configuration. The RAID gives the Blu-ray discs speed and competitive capacity.

Specs:

  • 200MB/sec throughput
  • 1.2TB per cartridge of 12 discs
  • 108TB per archive of 90 cartridge
  • 60 second access time
  • 6 Watts standby, 100 Watts R/W
  • 6U rackmountable box

The 12 Blu-ray discs are in a cartridge about the size of a tape. The disc unloader places them into 12 different Blu-ray drives for reading and writing.

But can Panny’s Blu-rays with a claimed 50 year life be trusted? I’d like something better.

The 1000 year DVD
That something better may be here. It is a DVD, and soon to be a Blu-ray disc, disc, with a claimed life of 1000 years.

The key is a writable layer that, unlike existing writable DVDs, uses an inorganic mineral layer to store the data. Doug Hansen, CTO, told me that they use a stone-like material.

Most rocks are silicates, oxides and metalloids. M-DISC’s material at nanoscale looks like igneous rock. Extremely thin layer and fine-grained – 100nm thick – horizontal scale 1/2 micron and smaller for bluray.

The laser burn heats the mineral layer so there’s a bit of melting and surface tension creates a hole. The material migrates to create a berm.

Because it is physically burnt into that inorganic mineral layer of the DVD media, it cannot and will not shift or change over time. The layer will last as long as the disc’s tough polycarbonate plastic. Most credible optical story I’ve heard.

Ridata is producing the discs, with Blu-ray versions expected this summer. All current LG DVD burners are warranteed to properly burn M-DISCs, which means you take your chances with other brands today.

Quotium
Quotium’s StorSentry software analyzes the quality of tape storage on a real-time runtime basis. With LTO tapes warranteed for only 200 complete read/write cycles, and costing almost as much as a disk drive, anything that can extend the useful life of a tape while protecting your data is a Good Thing.

Media Entertainment & Scientific Storage
MESS is a new group looking at long-term storage stack from media all the way to Digital Asset Management. Paul Evans, a long-time big systems guy, is heading it up.

The StorageMojo take
For some reason my attention was on the long-term storage issues that media and entertainment folks must grapple with. Given the massive carelessness of the movie industry over the last 100 years – and the loss of thousands of movies – I don’t believe that republishing all data every 5 years is a viable long-term strategy.

Long-term readability is a major problem with any digital medium. Assuming the media is good, can you count on a machine able to read it?

Optical has an important advantage because optical technology is everywhere and easy to replicate. Compare that to the specialized head/media engineering of tape – typically promising compatibility over 2-3 generations – and you’ll have a much more difficult time reading an LTO-5 tape in 20 years.

Panasonic should get together with M-DISC to produce a true long-term, high-performance storage system. But in the meantime, tape is still a major piece of the long-term storage puzzle, and Quotium’s software seems like a step in the right direction.

But MESS is correct to focus on the entire stack. Even if you can read the media, can you make sense of it?

One of these days the relentless growth in the density and speed of digital media will slow. When that happens it will become practically impossible to maintain existing data without a long-term strategy.

While we can hope that slowdown is decades away, the earlier we start thinking about it the better prepared we will be. Our digital civilization depends on it.

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Come to think of it, maybe the fact that I moderated a panel on long-term storage put me in that frame of mind. Go figure.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Graham Saturday, 19 January, 2013 at 2:18 pm

A Blu-Ray M-DISC is interesting, but the capacity is still very low relative to disk and tape. If optical storage technology could overcome capacity limitations, it just might have an opportunity to play in the mainstream archival marketplace.

Rocky Tuesday, 22 January, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Yes “Panasonic should get together with M-DISC to produce a true long-term, high-performance storage system.” But not using some inscrutable RAID striping across the discs. I want each disk to be standalone UDF. The Panasonic box should look like 1008 separate disks, which filesystem magic can glue together to look like one or a few volumes. Standalone UDF disks would be readable long after Panasonic abandons this device.

Such a system would be great for long-term storage of scientific data. If you think the movie people have lost a lot …

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