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Optical Storage Media: Blu-ray and Beyond

I get a fair amount of email from readers asking about the suitability of using recordable DVD technology for data backup and archiving. After I respond to such messages by pointing out DVD's pros and cons, I usually receive a follow-up query about which format is best--DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RAM, and so on. In general, I've recommended the multiformat drives to readers because those drives offer users the broadest possible range of media.

Recently I've been telling folks to keep an eye out for the availability of Blu-ray-format media. Vendors such as Sony have announced the imminent availability of drives that will support 25GB on a single Blu-ray disk. The driving force behind Blu-ray technology is High-Definition Television (HDTV); that 25GB disk supports a little more than two hours of HDTV video and has a 36Mbps data transfer rate, so that Blu-ray can maintain the original quality of the HDTV stream. Plans are already on the drawing board for a version of Blu-ray that greatly increases disk capacity up to 100GB.

Obviously, the availability of reliable Blu-ray drives and media means that the technology will affect the storage market. At present, with desktop computers commonly having 160GB hard drives and no backup system, a technology that lets you back up the contents of an entire desktop locally on just a few disks has a built-in market. Disk changers that support multiple drives will find a place in the server backup market, too, because the inexpensive automation that's in disk-changer technology will make high-capacity optical disk storage available to even entry-level server users.

Nevertheless, even as Blu-ray is about to appear on our doorstep, the next-generation technologies are in sight. In late September, Imperial College London, a science-based university in the UK, announced a new technology that can store a terabyte of data (1000GB) on a disk that's the size of a CD-ROM. (For more information about the Imperial College announcement, see "One-Terabyte Optical Disk Technology Unveiled". Don't hold your breath waiting for a commercial appearance of the drive; the Imperial College development team has stated that although they can get the data onto the disk, they haven't yet developed a drive that can read the data back fast enough to be useful. The development team doesn't expect a commercially viable product to be available before 2009.

While we're talking about futuristic optical storage technologies, let's go all out and highlight a company with the possibly wishful, yet self-describing name of Colossal Storage Corporation that claims it possesses the technology to develop a 3.5" optical disk with the capacity of 10TB, or 100 times the capacity of the forthcoming Blu-ray media. Now it's true that the "Atomic Holographic Optical NanoStorage Drive" proposed by Colossal Storage isn't even in the proof-of-concept stage at this time, but the company has been granted patents for the enabling technologies that it believes will lead to these incredibly high-capacity optical storage devices.

Optical storage appears to be a moving target, even though these next generations of super-high-capacity devices are yet to be proven real. Industry observers hope that Blu-ray will offer the standardization that the current DVD market lacks and provide corporate buyers who seek writeable optical media solutions a standard that has sufficient capacity to suit their present needs.

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