Good as gold: high-capacity data storage technology developed
Australian and Chinese scientists have utilised the durability of gold in the creation of a high-capacity optical disk that can hold data securely for more than 600 years.
The rise of big data and cloud storage has necessitated an increase in power-hungry data centres. These centres not only use up colossal amounts of energy — consuming about 3% of the world’s electricity supply — but largely rely on hard disk drives that have limited capacity (up to 2 TB per disk) and lifespans (up to two years).
Scientists from RMIT University in Melbourne and Wuhan Institute of Technology in China, led by RMIT Distinguished Professor Min Gu, have now used gold nanomaterials to demonstrate a next-generation optical disk with up to 10 TB capacity — a storage leap of 400% — and a six-century lifespan. Their work has been published in the journal Nature Communications.
Developed over five years, the technique behind the technology combines gold nanomaterials with a hybrid glass material that has impressive mechanical strength. The research progresses earlier work by Gu and his team that smashed through the optical limit of Blu-ray and enabled data to be stored across the full spectrum of visible light rays.
Glass is a highly durable material that can last up to 1000 years and can be used to hold data, but has limited storage capacity because of its inflexibility. The team decided to combine glass with an organic material, halving its lifespan but radically increasing capacity.
To create the nanoplasmonic hybrid glass matrix, gold nanorods were incorporated into a hybrid glass composite, known as organic modified ceramic. The researchers chose gold because, like glass, it is robust and highly durable. Gold nanoparticles allow information to be recorded in five dimensions — the three dimensions in space plus colour and polarisation.
The technology could radically improve the energy efficiency of data centres — using 1000 times less power than a hard disk centre — by requiring far less cooling and doing away with the energy-intensive task of data migration every two years. Optical disks are also inherently far more secure than hard disks.
“All the data we’re generating in the big data era — over 2.5 quintillion bytes a day — has to be stored somewhere, but our current storage technologies were developed in different times,” noted Gu.
“While optical technology can expand capacity, the most advanced optical disks developed so far have only 50-year lifespans.
“Our technique can create an optical disk with the largest capacity of any optical technology developed to date and our tests have shown it will last over half a millennium.”
RMIT’s Dr Qiming Zhang, lead author on the study, added that the new technology could expand horizons for research by helping to enable the shift from big data towards ‘long data’ — the mining of massive datasets that capture changes in the real world over decades and centuries.
“Long data offers an unprecedented opportunity for new discoveries in almost every field — from astrophysics to biology, social science to business — but we can’t unlock that potential without addressing the storage challenge,” said Zhang.
“For example, to study the mutation of just one human family tree, 8 TB of data is required to analyse the genomes across 10 generations. In astronomy, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope produces 576 PB of raw data per hour. Meanwhile, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative to ‘map’ the human brain is handling data measured in yottabytes, or one trillion terabytes.
“These enormous amounts of data have to last over generations to be meaningful. Developing storage devices with both high capacity and long lifespan is essential, so we can realise the impact that research using long data can make in the world.”
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