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Australian and Chinese scientists demonstrate storage technology with 10 TB capacity and 600 year lifespan

Scientists from RMIT University in Australia and the Wuhan Institute of Technology in China have used gold nanomaterials to demonstrate an optical disk with up to 10TB capacity and a six-century lifespan. This represents a storage improvement of 400 per cent over current technologies.

The researchers demonstrated optical long data memory in a novel nanoplasmonic hybrid glass matrix, different to the conventional materials used in optical discs.

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 combined glass with an organic material, resulting in half the lifespan but significantly increased capacity.

Gold nanorods were incorporated into a hybrid glass composite, known as organic modified ceramic, to create the nanoplasmonic hybrid glass matrix.

Gold was selected because it is robust and highly durable, like glass. Gold nanoparticles allow information to be recorded in five dimensions – the three dimensions in space plus colour and polarisation.

The technique relies on a sol-gel process, which uses chemical precursors to produce ceramics and glasses with better purity and homogeneity as compared to conventional processes.

Benefits of the technology

The explosion of Big Data and cloud storage in recent years has led to a parallel rise in the requirement for power-hungry data centres. Dtheata centres consume about 3 per cent of the world’s electricity supply and largely rely on hard disk drives that have limited capacity of up to 2TB per disk and lifespans of up to two years.

This new technology could lead to a radical improvement in the energy efficiency of data centres - using 1000 times less power than a hard disk centre - by requiring significantly less cooling and eliminating the energy-intensive task of data migration every two years. Optical disks are also inherently more secure than hard disks.

Though the researchers know that the technique is suitable for mass production of optical disks, further work is required to optimise the technology and they are keen to partner with industrial collaborators to drive the research forward.  

The jump in capacity and lifespan would also enable a shift from big data to long data, enabling the discovery of new insights through the mining and preservation of huge datasets that capture changes in the real world over decades and centuries (In a longitudinal study, data is gathered for the same subjects repeatedly over a period of time).

Lead author, Senior Research Fellow Dr Qiming Zhang from RMIT’s School of Science, talked about the opportunities afforded by long data which cannot be unlocked without addressing the storage challenge.

“For example, to study the mutation of just one human family tree, 8 terabytes of data is required to analyse the genomes across 10 generations. In astronomy, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope produces 576 petabytes 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,” he added.

Lead investigator, RMIT's Distinguished Professor Min Gu, said, “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. 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.”

The research builds on previous work by Gu and his team that surpassed the seemingly unbreakable optical limit of blu-ray and enabled data to be stored across the full spectrum of visible light rays.

The research was led by Gu and Zhang at RMIT’s Laboratory of Artificial-Intelligence Nanophotonics and the RMIT node of Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS), together with collaborators from the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Wuhan University of Technology and the Faculty of Engineering, Monash University.

The paper, “High-capacity optical long data memory based on enhanced Young’s modulus in nanoplasmonic hybrid glass composites” is published in Nature Communications (DOI 10.1038/s41467-018-03589-y).

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