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Technology of tomorrow, today? One terabyte, one centimeter holographic data storage cube in the works

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Tucked behind a protected website that is closed to the general public, Access Optical Networks (AON) has developed an exciting new way to utilize holographic technology and store a terabyte of data in a one centimeter cube.

Holographic storage systems aren’t exactly new. They have been around for years, but have been met by various roadblocks due to rising costs and an unconvincing advantage over more conventional means of data storage. While the technology is certainly “cool”, the idea of paying more money for moderately better or similar technology is not. But according to a recent article in Laser Focus World, the New Jersey-based AON may be on the verge of rectifying that.

Okay, so how does it work? Basically to use a holographic storage system one method is to utilize a laser, which is then split into two separate beams. Once the beam is split, each beam acts as either a data beam or a reference beam. Once that is done, the data beam must be bounced off an object and subsequently reconnected to the reference beam and onto a photographic plate. In short, because the data being stored is not an image of the object, but the interference pattern produced when the two beams recombine at the plate, the pattern is able to contain a lot more data.

When it comes to storing said data in a holographic manner, instead of bouncing the data beam off an object, you bounce the data off of an arrangement of mirrors that can either reflect that light created or not. This creates a holographic “page” that is essentially comprised of a series of bright and light spots. These bright and light spots are what is being stored and read as data.

Part of what makes the technology so exciting is that after a page has been “written,” all that needs to be done to create another page is adjust the angle at which the laser beam will intersect your chosen storage medium. And if you want to retrieve older data, simply readjust the angle back to the exact position it was previously at.

With a high level of precision required for the mirrors, it’s hard to tell how this kind of system would perform under any sort of pressure or vibration. Still, one of the other remarkable aspects of AON’s holographic date storage system is the systems need for very little space to store all these thousands of bytes. In an object like a centimeter cube, AON has been able to store one terabyte of data, once extrapolated; a relatively tiny object could potentially hold up to ten terabytes, which according to AON is what they currently max out at.

According to the article, AON is touting data transfer speeds of 1240 megabytes per second and the price per gigabyte is currently sits at under $1.00. Now that may sound impressive, but consider that a terabyte consists of 1000 gigabytes give or take and at about $1.00 a gigabyte consumers could be paying quite the premium.

While the technology is certainly intriguing and the transfer rates are impressive, the cost is what has us skeptical. With standard (read: bigger and a little bulkier) 1 terabyte external hard drives priced anywhere from $110 to $150, this might be one of those times where bigger tech is actually better — at least so far.