So many of the major breakthroughs in disk technology have come from IBM Corp that the capability of anybody else to push back the frontiers tends to get called into question. However, a group of disk industry veterans that formed TeraStor Inc in San Jose 15 months ago claim that their Near Field Recording technology will make possible a new class of rewritable – and apparently magneto- optical – mass storage products that deliver a sustainable 10-fold capacity advantage at a lower cost-per-Gigabyte than all existing storage technologies. They say the first products based on TeraStor technology are planned for shipment early next year, with initial capacities of over 20Gb per surface – using a 3.5 form factor, presumably. TeraStor says its engineers have combined three key patented technology advances to create Near Field Recording architecture. The first is modified version of the flying read-write head used in current disk drives, which adds optical elements as well as a magnetic coil – implying that we’re looking at phase change recognition – enabling the head to fly at a controlled distance over the recording medium to eliminate the cost of a servo system for focus. The second is a Solid Immersion Lens, the optical element in the flying head closest to the recording medium: this lens is claimed to focus the laser so as to reduce significantly the magnetic bit cell size compared with conventional technologies, enabling increased recording density. The third is First Surface Recording, where the hardened magnetic recording material is placed directly on the surface of the substrate, enabling the use of lower cost substrates and making possible higher areal densities. The flying head includes co-exclusive patent rights granted to TeraStor by Quantum Corp, passing on basic technology developed by Digital Equipment Corp and acquired by Quantum as part of its purchase of DEC’s storage business, and the fundamental Solid Immersion Lens technology was originally developed and patented by Stanford University, which exclusively licensed the technology to TeraStor for storage products. Founders of TeraStor are Jim McCoy, co-founder of Quantum, Maxtor Corp and Maxoptix Inc; Gordon Knight, co-founder of Maxoptix and Optimem Inc; and Bill Dobbin, founding chief financial officer of Maxtor. The company has raised more than $30m from a group of investors including Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ventures Inc; Information Technology Ventures; Charter Venture Capital; Venture Law Group; Quantum; and TeraStor founders. TeraStor plans to make drives itself and to license the technology to others, and reckons that Near Field Recording and related technologies will immediately begin displacing tape, magneto-optical, removable hard disk and optical storage in many back-up and archive applications, and start replacing existing drives for live data on-the-fly data once the new drives are as fast as conventional ones, which the company regards as only a matter of time.