What's New in Technology for January 2003

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Using Holograms to Store Data
We have come a long way in storage media, 20 years ago the common way of transferring files from location to location was via a 5¼-inch floppy disk that could store up to 360 kilobytes of data. This piece of technology was made up of a thin piece of magnetic plastic surrounded by another piece of non-magnetic plastic that was so thin, they tended to sag or "flop" over when being handled, hence its name.

Fast forward 15 years and we have a condensed version of the “floppy” disk, the 3.5-inch high-density disk that can store up to 1.4 megabytes of data. Even though the 3.5-inch “floppy” disk’s outer casing was made of hard solid plastic, it still retained the beloved nickname of “floppy” disk from its predecessor.

Today we have a variety of different types of storage media ranging from compact disks (CD) that can store up to 783 megabytes of data, to small USB (Universal Serial Bus) drives the size of a pack of gum that can hold up to 256 megabytes. However, this article isn’t to talk about the past rather about the future. The future of storage media isn’t in magnetic plastic or polycarbonate plastic, which is used in compact disks, but in light. Light you say? Yes, light is the future of storage media used in a technology called holographic memory.

Holographic memory is a type of optical storage media that stores data three-dimensionally. Unlike the 3.5-inch floppy or the compact disk that stores data only on the surface of the medium it uses such as plastic, holographic memory stores data in a three-dimensional cube. The capacity of holographic memory greatly increases allowing up 1,000 gigabytes of data in a small sugar sized cube. 1,000 gigabytes, also known as a “terabyte,” is the equivalent of about 50 typical hard drives the size of a small books that you have in your desktop today.

Scientist Pieter J. Van Heerden who worked for Polaroid in the 1960’s first proposed holographic memory. Today HDDS (Holographic Data Storage Systems) is based on the same concept that Pieter Heerden developed forty years ago and works by splitting a blue-green laser into a signal beam and reference beam. The signal beam carries the data to a light-sensitive crystal where it meets the reference beam that is used to “remember” the location of the data within the crystal. As the two laser beams meet, an interference pattern is created and stores the data carried by the signal beam in a specific area in the crystal otherwise known as a hologram.

What does HDDS mean for you?

Well the benefits will be felt from large datacenters, down to small business owners, and even to your home business and home pc users. Currently businesses who wish to store huge amounts of data have to purchase large racks lined with hard drives otherwise known as “Disk Farms”. These Disk Farms often require their own temperature controlled room and can take up precious square footage. With Holographic memory the Disk Farms that you see today will receive a much needed downsize and small business owners will no longer have to rely on large data centers to store their sensitive data.

So when can we expect to see HDDS?

It’s closer at hand then you may think. IBM expects to release a holographic data storage device that can store 125 gigabytes of information sometime this year, and it’s only a matter of time before we see HDDS media capable of storing terabytes of data. The uses for HDDS are endless, soon new devices called holographic memory players will be on the market which plays a DVD-like disc but would have a capacity 27 times that of typical DVD disc on the market today. How would you like to have your entire movie collection stored in a couple disc? Now that’s the future!

We hope you have a happy and prosperous 2003!


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