Jan 18, 2005
Hitachi is claiming they will be sampling a 5.25″ 200GB holographic storage platter late this year. If it were almost anyone else I wouldn’t give the story much credence, but Hitachi knows what it means to deliver product. I expect this date will slip into next year, but this is still a major milestone in commercializing a non-magnetic bulk storage medium.

The Information Week article notes: “[Hitachi] carries a 400-Gbyte tape cartridge for computer backup, but a disk form should be available if users want to access the data, said the spokesman.” That somewhat oblique comment captures the core advantage of this technology over tape: random access.

The two big knocks against tape, reliability and slow access, could both be eliminated by holographic disk media. Imagine a 120TB backup device where any file could be accessed 30 seconds or less, sitting in a 6U rackmount device. No inside info (for now), but if several companies aren’t planning this or something even better they should hang up their spurs.

That said, there have been many challengers to magnetic disks over the years and just as many failures. The biggest problem for challengers is that magnetic density growth has always exceeded what a startup technology could maintain, so the challenger’s economics would always get worse relative to disk. But this looks like it may be different. Optical platter technology is process intensive so it benefits by the investment in DVD R development and reproduction. While the read-write head is different for holography, it too should be able to benefit from much of the mass production cost curves of DVD writers. Instead of entirely new technology infrastructure this entrant could be riding the coattails of massive consumer volumes, much as 8mm tape did in the ’80s or CD-ROM did in the ’90s.

We should all watch this closely to see if Hitachi can really deliver. This could be the first Really Big Thing in storage for the 21st century.