The Latest in Data Storage: Nano-Structured Glass

The Latest in Data Storage: Nano-Structured Glass

July 25

Since no data storage method lasts forever, you’ll find yourself switching from tape to hard disk, hard disk to hard disk, DVD to Blu-Ray, whatever to whatever, every few years—it’s really one of the only ways to hang on to everything.

There are silver linings in clouds, where you can also store data for a long time, though you need an internet connection to access it. However, those in charge of the data center will still have to replace their storage equipment periodically. Why can’t there be a way to store data perpetually?

There might be.

We mentioned once before a hard drive that uses a sapphire disk with information that’s engraved in platinum. The Sapphire Hard Drive has a theoretical lifespan of one million years, but according to a Wired article, researchers at the University of Southampton have developed another technique that can not only store information forever (theoretically), but can also withstand heat up to 1000° Celsius, or 1832° Fahrenheit—that’s some serious disaster-resistance.

Using sheets of nano-structured glass, the researchers successfully recorded and retrieved a PDF file inside of the glass. The process stores data using five dimensions of glass—that’s two dimensions in addition to the normal length, width, and height. These extra measurements are the axis orientation of the structure, and an optical measurement called the birefringence, which refers to the way the material reflects light.

Not only does this technique explore “new dimensions,” it also stores a lot of data. Each spot on the glass can store three different bits of information, giving the glass tested by the researchers a storage capacity of 360 terabytes—this is some big storage.

There’s always a caveat to super awesome technology like this. Lots of emerging technology is quite expensive at the onset, and this type of storage is no exception, mainly due to the cost of femtosecond lasers (also used for Lasik surgery), which researchers use to write the information. This method of data storage might not be feasible for your home computer (at least not yet), but it might have practical applications for cloud companies that handle large amounts of storage because it could eliminate their need to keep replacing old equipment.

Curious about the history of data storage? Check out our series: “the History of Data Storage and Backup.

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