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September 12, 2014

10 storage technologies of the future (and past)

Tapes are so '80s, but also incredibly important for the future of data storage and crystals and helium...

By Ben Sullivan

Data storage practices have advanced dramatically over the past few decades, and there are many more exciting and ingenuitive storage concepts and technologies on the way. Here are 10 of our favourite.

Tape is not dead or evening dying

Magnetic tapes used to be the best way to store data, with the things being able to store HUNDREDS of GBs back in the ’90s. However, this all changed with hard drives and writable optical media.

But don’t worry; tape storage could make a massive comeback. Sony announced in May this year that it has developed a magnetic cassette that can hold 148GB of data per square inch of tape. That works out about 185TB per tape. The data will also last far longer than current methods of USB and optical media storage. The technique uses argon ions which are shot at polymer film to create a layer of magnetic crystals 7 nanometres big.


Crystal Storage

"A faint mechanical click sounded from the mirror. Then a thin, rectangular rod slid out. The transparent object inside was about the size of half a sugar cube. One of millions of crystals that made up the totality of the Crystal Brain, high efficiency optical storage media with integrated data processing and encryption. Memory crystals had a storage capacity of one to five terabytes and were readable at several gigabytes per second. The storage was written in by lasers, etching electronically readable data patterns into the layer of the crystal."

The above may be fiction (it is in fact an extract from Frank Schatzing’s sci-fi thriller Limit), but crystal storage may soon be real, and the method could keep data safe for a million years!


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Holographic storage

Rather than storing the data of the surface of the disk, holographic storage operates in three dimensions. Take for instance a DVD storing data on different levels. The laser only reads those levels one layer at a time, but holographic storage would be able to be read on multiple levels at the same time.


HAMR Drives

Heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) allows drives’ lasers to heat up the disk player to change its magnetic properties. This allows for more bits to be stored per square inch and the disk surface actually becomes easier to write to. Seagate says: "A digital library of all the books written in the world would be approximately 400TB – in the near future, all these books could conceivably be stored on as few as 20 HAMR drives."

Liquid-State Storage

Solid state goes out the window with liquid state storage – the metal inside of the hard drive is kept in its liquid state.

But rather than being a real liquid metal like mercury, the substance inside is called Vanadium dioxide which can be given either a positive or negative charge.



Multi-cloud storage

IBM researchers are working on ‘the cloud-of-clouds’, multi-cloud storage that allows users to move data between more than one cloud in real time.

The system can link both public and private clouds and will help avoid outages from separate providers.


SMR Drives

Seagate says that Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) Technology is the first step to reaching 20TB hard drives by 2020. The process involves packing disk tracks closer together, overlapping them which allows for more data to be written in the same amount of space. This method can offer up to 25% more storage capacity.

Helium Drive Technology

As helium is lighter than air, sealing helium into hard drives rather than air reduces the friction that the spinning disks encounter, meaning less power is needed to run them, resulting in more disks being packed closer together and increasing the capacity.


DNA storage

Data files can be converted to binary code and then into the four codes A, T, G and C which stand for the four DNA bases. When the actual strands for the DNA are created, they are invisible to the naked eye, but can store data for thousands of years rather than a few decades.



Like post-it notes, but way more advanced. A possibly USB-replacing technology, datastickies can store up to 32GB of data on a tiny slice of graphene between two protective layers. It’s got a thickness of just one atom and one day users me be able to stick them to their monitors just like real post-it notes to transfer data to their computers.


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