A Technology Story: A Terabyte Optical Drive - InformationWeek

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IoT
IoT
Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
1/7/2008
10:58 AM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
Commentary
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A Technology Story: A Terabyte Optical Drive

LAS VEGAS -- CES sometimes seems like it's all products all the time, but one of the interesting things about coming back year after year is that a strange sort of time-lapse perspective kicks in -- you can watch a new technology grow from concept to prototype to finished product to industry segment. I think I caught one of those at a very early stage this weekend. I met the people behind Mempile, a technology development effort aimed at creat

LAS VEGAS -- CES sometimes seems like it's all products all the time, but one of the interesting things about coming back year after year is that a strange sort of time-lapse perspective kicks in -- you can watch a new technology grow from concept to prototype to finished product to industry segment. I think I caught one of those at a very early stage this weekend. I met the people behind Mempile, a technology development effort aimed at creating a terabyte optical disk drive.Even in a week when outrageous product claims are commonplace, putting a terabyte of data on a single DVD-sized disk sounds pretty far-fetched. Ortal Alpert, founder and CTO of Mempile, an Israeli company, was careful to say that it's not a reality yet. And while he stood in a trade-show booth in front of a rendering of a futuristic flying-saucer-shaped drive, he stressed that it was just a concept illustration, not a product design.




This is a concept illustration for a Mempile terabyte optical drive -- the closest thing to reality about it is the yellow disk, made of a special material that the company has developed.
Click to Enlarge

Right now what Mempile's got, said Beth Erez, EVP and chief marketing officer, is a prototype drive the size of a smallish refrigerator. But they're confident enough of their technology that they began to show it off earlier this year, and they came to Las Vegas for a presentation at Storage Visions, the storage industry conference that precedes CES every year.

In her presentation, Erez described a process for writing and reading 5 Gbytes of data per layer on a 200-layer disk 1.2-mm thick. A company white paper describes the media as being based on materials science that yielded "a molecule (a chromophore) that interacts with light through the nonlinear optical process of two-photon absorption and is capable of switching between two distinct [states]." What that seems to mean is that rather than writing by using a laser to burn pits in a substrate the way current optical technology does, the Mempile drive uses an optical system that directs two laser beams through a single lens system. One beam and companion detector are tracking, detecting position on the disc. The other laser/detector system writes by changing the physical characteristics of a polymer material so that it flouresces at a different wavelength of light, and reads by detecting the wavelength of light reflected from a write location. The material remains transparent -- it would have to, if the drive is going to reach through 200 layers of material. In fact, the Mempile booth's counter was covered with bright yellow transparent discs, samples of its material.




A block diagram of Mempile's optical system shows two differently colored lasers and three beam-splitter mirrors that use a single objective lens to track the drive head's location on the disc, and do reads and writes.
Click to Enlarge

The Mempile technology is a WORM drive, and so far its technology is refined enough to hit just over 100 layers on one of their discs. There's more information on the technology at www.mempile.com if you want to get really geeky with it.

Erez devoted much of her presentation to making a marketing case for the technology -- archival storage of large amounts of medical-history data or digital surveillance video, for example. But if you've been around computers for very long, you can appreciate that technology like this creates its own markets -- it will find uses we won't anticipate until we have it in our hands. Mempile was founded in 2000, and has come a long way. It's still got a long way to go, but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on. No product announcement this year. Probably not next, but someday . . . .

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