The ghost of Herman Hollerith?

Find out what IBM is up to in terms of storage density.

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The past is providing the prologue for a research development at IBM. The computer giant just announced that they have developed an experimental technology, which permits the storage of a trillion bits per square inch -- 20 times higher than the densest magnetic storage available today.

The demonstration is particularly interesting in that it takes a cue from a process that has roots in IBM history, the 110-year old "punch-card" technology developed originally by Herman Hollerith. In addition, according to the company, this approach to data storage is re-writable and can be operated at lower power.

Rather than using traditional magnetic or electronic means to store data, Millipede uses thousands of nano-sharp tips to punch indentations representing individual bits into a thin plastic film.

IBM scientists believe that still higher levels of storage density are possible. "Since a nanometer-scale tip can address individual atoms, we anticipate further improvements far beyond even this fantastic terabit milestone," said Nobel laureate Gerd Binnig, one of the drivers of the Millipede project. "While current storage technologies may be approaching their fundamental limits, this nanomechanical approach is potentially valid for a thousand-fold increase in data storage density," he said.

IBM has, so far, announced no plans to commercialize the technology -- the project leader told EETimes it would take a minimum of two years to even begin to consider manufacturing. However, he also told CNN that the technology could begin to replace flash memories in portable devices by 2005.

Tech-watcher, Jeff Harrow, says in his most recent Harrow Group newsletter "This isn't the death knell for traditional magnetic disk drives." Still, he is optimistic about its future and, he speculates "if this technology increases its storage capacity at anything like the "Moore's Law-plus" rate of current storage increases, we could have portable digital devices that might never run out of room for storing pictures, audio, video, and more…which would change a lot of rules."

For more information:

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  • Alan Earls often writes about things NAS and SAN in his weekly "SAN/NAS Update: Trends" column. View the latest
  • About the author: Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, MA.


    This was first published in July 2002

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