What is 5D Optical Memory?
Data storage traditionally requires a lot of space due to the size of units needed to physically store a large volume of information. However, a team of scientists at the University of Southampton has developed a brand new technology that could permanently change the structure of data centres in the future.
Their truly ground-breaking technique promises to have widespread ramifications for data centre size and storage capabilities, if widespread adoption takes place.
The new technique is known as 5D Optical Memory and has smashed previous memory records in several ways. The size of available storage is one such record. Using 5D Optical Memory, researchers were able to place 360TB of data on a small round of glass. It is thought that data stored in this way could outlast the human race – with claims that the data could have a lifespan of more than 13 billion years. 5D Optical Memory will also maintain thermal stability up to 1000°C. This means even the hottest of fires won’t pose a threat to the safe storage of data.
Using 5D Optical Memory, data is stored on nanostructured glass and written by a femtosecond laser. This laser produces short and intense bursts of light. The file is then written in three layers of nanostructured dots, each of which is separated by 5 micrometres (one millionth of a meter).
The nanostructures change the way that light passes through glass. They modify the light and make it possible for data to be read by the combination of an optical microscope and a polariser. This concept is similar to how a CD or record works, with data stored in bumps. Of course, CDs and records are much more vulnerable to damage and subsequent data loss.
5D is a new generation development which follows on from the first examples of this technology – it dates back to 2013 when a 300kb text file was successfully written using 5D Optical Memory for the first time.
Several large documents have already been transferred onto 5D Optical Memory including The King James Bible, The Magna Carta, Newton’s Opticks and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All of these examples are of large documents, perfectly demonstrating the ability of this technique to bigger quantities of data.
5D Optical Memory is already being touted as a secure means of data storage for archives and libraries but this technology could also have an incredible impact on data centres. It would mean that data centres could physically be much smaller because of the reduction in storage size. The adoption of this method would also have ramifications for how data centres are set up; with the process of saving to 5D Optical Memory generating less heat, cooling system demands could be alleviated.
On the flip side, the technology powering 5D Optical Memory is currently very expensive.
The lasers required to write are not going to be leaving high-tech labs and moving into home and business settings anytime soon.
Scientists do believe there could be DVD-like players to read the data in a matter of decades, though the price point remains to be seen.
The team at Southampton is currently looking for industry partners to help commercialise and finesse this process so we’ll keep you posted.