Optical storage looks like it's getting a second chance at becoming a workable enterprise solution as new storage capacities aimed at high-definition video and other uses push their data capabilities into the terabyte range.
Internet News just did a nice roundup on high-capacity optical storage, concluding that it makes a viable alternative to other removable media due to its capacity, costs, shelf life and other considerations. And the latest systems coming on the market just may be able to overcome optical's reputation as a consumer technology. Enterprises getting the most benefit from optical include those with high WORM (write once, read many) requirements and those seeking alternative archival platforms for long-term storage.
A number of storage vendors are adding optical components to their product lines. PowerFile Inc. recently added Panasonic Blu-ray drives to its Active Archive Appliance. Storage density per appliance is now at 120 TB, a 10-fold increase over DVD-based systems. One of the benefits of having a non-proprietary consumer format such as Blu-ray is that the same openness translates over to enterprise use as well.
Of course, a formal standard has its disadvantages, namely a tendency to slow down technological advancement. An Israeli company called Mempile already is devising an optical system that would outclass Blu-ray and HD DVD by a long shot. The company has come up with a slightly thicker disk that allows it to hold up to 200 "virtual layers" of digital data, bumping the current 50 GB limit up to 1 TB. The advent of blue lasers could push that to 5 TB very soon. Look for the first disks to come out within the next year or two.
Meanwhile a company called InPhase, which emerged from Bell Labs a few years ago, is experimenting with a holographic storage system that could deliver a 1.6 TB disk within three years. Unlike Mempile's layered approach, InPhase creates a three-dimensional image on the disk than can be shaded light and dark to represent data. The company says potential benefits over optical storage include faster transfer, possibly up to 1 GBps, and a longer shelf life.
Clearly, optical storage boosters are taking dead aim at the installed based of tape-based backup and archive devices out there. Encroaching on that market may take longer than you might think, however. Optical really is only a long-term storage solution, after all. Anything that can be dumped after a few years is probably better off on tape or hard disk. And there's still the question as to whether the typical enterprise is up for a serious migration challenge.