Start-up debuts holographic storage device

InPhase Technologies of Longmont, Colo., has introduced a beta version of a storage drive that records data on holograms. The company may be the first to offer an actual working holographic-based storage device, a technology long pursued by government labs and companies.

'We believe we're several years ahead of anyone else in terms of development,' said Liz Murphy, vice president of marketing for InPhase. Murphy spoke yesterday at a meeting of the Government Information Preservation Working Group held in Reston, Va.

InPhase plans to start mass shipment of the holographic drives to original equipment manufacturers by 2006. The company now offers a limited number of 'early adopter' packages for $5,000 each, Murphy said. Each package includes a drive and approximately 2T worth of storage disks. The company plans first to introduce disks that can be recorded once and start producing rewritable disks shortly thereafter.

Holographic storage has long held the promise of storing much more information in a given space than is possible using tapes or disks. To record information holographically, two laser beams intersect on the surface of a photosensitive disk, creating a checkerboard-like layout of bits. The drive can place multiple layers of bits in a single location by changing the angle of one of the beams, called a reference beam.

An InPhase disk can hold up to 300G, Murphy said. In contrast, the next generation of DVDs, soon to hit the market, will be able to store only about 27G. Subsequent generations of the laser disk may hold as much as 1.6T each, Murphy said.

Despite its radical underpinnings, InPhase's device resembles a rather ordinary standard floppy drive. The removable, recordable disks, about 130 millimeters wide, are housed in plastic floppy disk-styled casings. The translucent disks are made of photosensitive plastic.

Murphy said the company plans to market these drives as a lower-cost alternative to the magnetic tape now used in many government agency archives. She expects holographic storage to run about 6 cents to 20 cents per gigabyte, lower than the projected cost of tape, which she estimated at 25 cents to $1 per gigabyte. Holographic storage also would be cheaper than DVDs ($1 to $2 per gigabyte) and disks (less than $3 per gigabyte).

InPhase also promises the drive will be speedy. 'If you are searching for a file, it is almost instantaneous. It is very, very fast,' Murphy said. The drive can retrieve data at about 20 megabytes per second and has a seek time'the average time it takes to find a particular piece of data on a disk'of about 250 milliseconds.

InPhase's technology was first developed at AT&T's Bell Labs and refined with about $2 million in research funding from the Commerce Department's Advanced Technology Program. Tape manufacturer Maxell Hitachi Maxell Ltd. of Tokyo has also invested in the company and will supply some of the disk components. Sony Corp. of Tokyo will supply the lasers, Murphy added.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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