Feasting on pie in the sky

A futuristic look at mind-blowing storage capacity technologies.

Feasting on pie in the sky
By Alan Earls

Fed up with your current storage challenges? Fear not, super-storage technology is on the horizon -- albeit, perhaps a rather distant horizon. According to a report in EE Times , a researcher at the University of Michigan has figured out how to phase-encode any number of ones and zeros along a single electron's oscillating waveform. If the method could ever be made practical, just one electron could store mountains of data!

What that means is that, theoretically, "quantum-phase data storage" has the potential to store a virtually unlimited amount of data -- in just one single electron! The June event included the likes of Sony Electronics discussing high-capacity helical-scan tape technology with the potential for terabyte per cartridge magnetic tape systems. Philips Research Laboratories discussed "third generation" optical storage: digital video recording (DVR) devices which will hold 25 GB on a single CD-size disk with a potential fourth generation that could hold at least 100 GB per disk.

One of the most tantalizing discussions may have been provided by Converse Wyeth of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) out of, Reston, Va. He discussed the TRAAMS (Tape-based Rapid Access Affordable Mass Storage) project, started in 1996 by SAIC, Xerox, Polaroid, Motorola, Energy Conversion Devices, University of Arizona, Carnegie Mellon University, and NASA Goddard with the goal of developing a digital optical tape data storage system with unprecedented capacity, transfer rates, access times, and cost per stored byte.

Wyeth says the present team has Kodak and Honeywell replacing Xerox, Polaroid, and Motorola. The five-year, $24 Million NIST-supported project is slated to continue until December 2001 and may result in the formation of a separate company to develop and market hardware.

Wyeth says TRAAMS optical-tape technology has demonstrated solid performance numbers and is ready for the marketplace. He predicts it will enter the high-end application space in 2 years or less with two- to four-times capacity transfer rates over projected magnetic tape systems, plus superior archival properties. And we are talking vast storage capacity. On the cartridge side, Wyeth reports that TRAAMs could soon mean 500-1000 GB products with capacity doubling every 18 months to two years. WORM would be the initial configuration, followed by rewritable. And arhival life is estimated at 60-100 years!

Additional information about the project is available at http://jazz.nist.gov/atpcf/prjbriefs/prjbrief.cfm?ProjectNumber=95-03-0022.

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About the author: Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, MA.

This was first published in July 2001

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