This obscure startup wants to kill Blu-ray, tape with ‘cheap’ 1TB optical disc

Folio Photonics has announced new advances in the field of material science it says will pave the way for ultra high-capacity, low-cost optical disc cartridges.

The data storage company claims to have developed the first “economically-viable, enterprise-scale optical storage discs with dynamic multi-layer write/read capabilities”, delivering a dramatic improvement in cost per capacity.

Modern archival discs feature only three optical layers per side, but the breakthrough achieved by Folio Photonics allows for up to 16 layers to be applied to each surface of a disc, increasing capacity significantly.

Greater storage capacity, lower price

Off the back of the breakthrough, Folio Photonics will turn its attention from research to product development, with the first discs expected to come to market in 2024.

Initially, the firm’s ten-disc cartridges will have a capacity of 10TB (1TB per disc), but the potential to add further layers will supposedly allow discs to scale rapidly towards “multi-TB capacities”.

“Our talented engineering team has pioneered a fresh approach to optical storage that overcomes historical constraints and puts unheard of cost, cybersecurity and sustainability benefits within reach,” said Steven Santamaria, Folio Photonics CEO. “With these advantages, Folio Photonics is poised to reshape the trajectory of archive storage.”

These bullish predictions were echoed by analyst John Monroe, formerly of Gartner, who said the company is “on a path to engendering far greater data densities than was thought possible several years ago”.

As the volume of data produced by internet activity, digital devices, IoT sensors, and general business operations continue to expand at an aggressive rate, large companies are expected to spend heavily on archival storage.

Currently, Linear Tape-Open (LTO) magnetic tape rules the roost, with the lowest cost per capacity of any technology. However, tape has its weaknesses too; data can only be accessed serially, making it hard to locate specific files, and companies also need to migrate to fresh tape on a semi-regular basis to avoid data loss.

The arrival of an ultra-cheap new form of archival storage, then, has the potential to have a material impact. The disc cartridges enabled by the new technology from Folio Photonics are set to be faster than tape, resilient to radiation, salt water, humidity, and temperature fluctuations, and boast a longevity of roughly 100 years. They will also support write once, read many (WORM) use cases. For a pricing comparison, Folio costs $5 per TB, while LTO-9 is roughly $8.30 per TB.

“Archival data is typically unchanging, presenting itself as ‘write once’ and requiring immutability. At the same time, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and Big Data analytics are increasing activity and accessibility requirements for archival storage systems,” added Fred Moore, president of consulting firm Horison Information Strategies.

“As a result, the demand for immutable active archives will only increase as immutability and higher performance requirements reshape the exploding secondary storage paradigm.”

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