10TB data-storage medium lasts for 600 years

Next-generation optical discs that are able to store up to 10TB of data for over 600 years have been demonstrated by scientists at RMIT University in Australia.

The technology could offer a more cost-efficient and sustainable solution to long-term data storage than current solutions allow.

The data is stored in a novel nanoplasmonic hybrid-glass matrix that is different to the conventional materials used in optical discs.

Glass is a highly durable material that can last up to 1000 years and can be used to hold data, but has limited storage capacity because of its inflexibility.

The team combined glass with an organic material, halving its lifespan but radically increasing capacity.

To create the nanoplasmonic hybrid-glass matrix, gold nanorods were incorporated into a hybrid-glass composite, known as organic modified ceramic.

The researchers chose gold because, like glass, it is robust and highly durable. Gold nanoparticles allow information to be recorded in five dimensions - the three dimensions in space plus colour and polarisation.

The technique relies on a sol-gel process, which uses chemical precursors to produce ceramics and glasses with better purity and homogeneity than conventional processes.

The recent explosion of big data and cloud storage has led to a parallel explosion in power-hungry data centres.

These centres not only use up colossal amounts of energy - consuming about 3 per cent of the world’s electricity supply - but largely rely on hard disc drives that have limited capacity (up to 2TB per disk) and lifespans (up to two years).

The technology could radically improve the energy efficiency of data centres - using 1000 times less power than a hard disc centre - by requiring far less cooling and doing away with the energy-intensive task of data migration every two years. Optical discs are also inherently far more secure than hard disss.

Lead investigator Professor Min Gu said the research paves the way for the development of optical data centres to address both the world’s data storage challenge and support the coming Long Data revolution.

“All the data we’re generating in the big data era - over 2.5 quintillion bytes a day - has to be stored somewhere, but our current storage technologies were developed in different times,” Gu said.

“While optical technology can expand capacity, the most advanced optical discs developed so far have only 50-year lifespans.

“Our technique can create an optical disc with the largest capacity of any optical technology developed to date and our tests have shown it will last over half a millennium.

“While there is further work needed to optimise the technology - and we’re keen to partner with industrial collaborators to drive the research forward - we know this technique is suitable for mass production of optical disks so the potential is staggering.”

Last year scientists in Singapore demonstrated an ultra-thin film that could utilise the properties of skyrmions – particles comprised of tiny magnetic whirls – as next-generation information carriers. 

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