Holographic & phase-change storage

What enterprise wouldn't benefit from a terabyte USB dongle on every key chain and every episode of Magnum, P.I. on a single disc? Thanks to phase-change memory and holographic storage, today's pipe dream is shaping up to be tomorrow's reality.

Currently under development by IBM, Macronix, and Qimonda, phase-change storage is being touted as 500 times faster and a magnitude smaller than traditional "floating gate" flash technology. Whereas flash memory involves the trapping of electrons, phase-change memory achieves its speed by heating a chalcogenide alloy, altering its phase from crystalline to amorphous.

This technology could prove critical in embedded computing apps, as memory cell degradation has forced many appliance developers to add expensive NVRAM (nonvolatile RAM) to store configuration information, rather than risk premature flash failure. Once realized, it could dramatically drive down the cost of appliances and push new capabilities into enterprise handsets.

Holographic storage, on the other hand, could quickly change the way we think about CDs and DVDs. So quickly, in fact, that enterprise archiving may bypass slow-to-ship dual-layer optical drives altogether and head straight to holographic optical.

InPhase Technologies is already shipping engineering prototypes of a holographic disc storage system with 60 times the storage capacity of today's DVDs. The advent of 3-D optical storage could herald the era of sending a copy of your entire corporate database off-site affordably. Think of what holographic storage could do for personal records portability: a durable ID card that contains your entire medical file in your wallet.

Regardless of which technology ships first, the enterprise is likely to benefit from both soon. Maybe those data crystals from Babylon 5 aren't so far off after all.

-- Brian Chee

How do you see the prospects of these storage technologies shaping up? What other out-there storage developments do you see shaking up the enterprise long term?