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What is Holographic Data Storage?

Instructor: Katie Musselwhite

Microsoft certified professional with a bachelor's degree in information technology management

This lesson introduces a potential technology- holographic data storage. It takes a look at how holographic data storage works, why it is a viable technology for us, and what it might mean for the future of data storage.

The Next Big Thing?

Holographic data storage sounds like something from an episode of Star Trek, right? However, you may be surprised to find that it is actually a potential technology to provide a solution for enterprises seeking high-capacity data storage. As the line from The Six Million Dollar Man states, 'we have the technology'- we just have to learn how to apply it to make holographic data storage a reality!

How Likely is Holographic Data Storage?

The use of light to store data is nothing new. Compact discs (CDs) were the first data storage device to use this technology in the 1980s, but it was still a long way off from holographic storage. DVDs and Blu-Ray discs use a more refined version of the same technology used by CDs to read and write data, so really the technology has been inching in this direction.

This concept of optical storage, or the use of light to store data, is the very essence of holographic data storage. This new concept of holographic memory will go beyond writing data on the surface of a disc, but will quite literally penetrate the surface, greatly magnifying the physical area available to store data.

Beyond CDs and DVDs

Holographic data storage or 'three-dimensional data storage' is quite simple in concept, though the execution of such an idea is quite complex. Right now the optical data storage potential is limited to the surface area of the recording device.

A CD can only hold as much as can physically be written to the disc, and a DVD (though more efficient and double-sided) faces the same limitations. Holographic memory seeks to go beyond that limiting factor of surface area and store exponentially more data in the same area.

A holographic memory system consists of the following: a blue-green argon laser, beam splitters, mirrors, an LCD panel, lenses, lithium-niobate crystal, and a charge-coupled device camera. Don't have those laying around the house? Don't worry, neither do the rest of us, with the exception of tech giants IBM and Lucent, who have been working on prototypes over the last several years.

How Holographic Data Storage Would Work

The way a holographic memory system should and would work is where things get a bit tricky.

  1. The blue-green argon laser would be fired, and with the help of the beam splitter, the laser beam would be split into two beams known as the signal beam, which travels straight ahead, and the reference beam, which is directed through the side of the beam splitter.
  2. The signal beam would bounce off of a mirror, and travel through the LCD display to the lithium-niobate crystal.
  3. The reference beam would approach the crystal from a different path.
  4. When the two beams meet, the data (carried by the signal beam) would be stored in a hologram.

Visual representation of what is occurring during holographic data storage.
hologram diagram

This might sound like a long and complicated journey. Complicated, yes, but the time span in which this entire event occurs is just a split second! It isn't something likely to be used in your home by Christmas-time, but the reality of this technology might be closer than we think!

Why Use Holographic Data Storage?

So why is this complicated and no doubt expensive technology even being considered? This technology could completely revolutionize the deep archiving that many enterprises need. Terabytes of data are archived every day and the physical capacity of data storage facilities truly is limited.

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