Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
May 6th, 2009

The Never Ending Breakthrough in Storage

Last week G.E. announced an incredible breakthrough in storage technology.  This breakthrough allows the equivalent of 100 DVDs of content to be put on one disc.  This is another dramatic step in the on-going revolution of storage of the last decade.

As long time readers of this blog know I have consistently written about this revolution for three years.  It is one of the most profound yet least discussed technological transformations to occur in this decade.  Almost three years ago I wrote this column about the staggering development of a 1 gigabyte flash drive, up from the128mbs flash drive that was, at that time the cutting edge corporate giveaway.  In that column I mentioned that those new 1 gigabyte flash drives represented more storage capacity than existed in a desk top PC from the late 1980s.

Only six months later I wrote a column about how the new flash drives had 4 gigabytes of storage and were the size of a quarter.  Hey, look, I have a main frame’s worth of storage mixed in with my pocket change.  In that same column I marveled at the 60 gigabyte external hard drives coming on the market that would allow the aggregation of extensive media files.  That was just 30 months ago.  Now of course you can walk into any Best Buy and get an external hard drive with a terabyte of storage, and for the same price that the 60 gigabyte one was 30 months ago.

Exactly a year ago I wrote a column that pointed out that the amount of storage in external hard drives increased 100,000% in the 30 years leading up to 2008.  At the same time the cost of storage dropped from $300 per megabyte to 1/50th of a cent.  In that column  I predicted further leaps in the expansion of storage and shrinkage in the price and went on to say:” One of the unsung heroes of the digital technological transformation of the last 30 years has been the revolution in computer storage. It is one of the parents of the long tail economy.”

It seems that the famous Moore’s law about processing speed and power is in the slow lane when compared to the more rapid miniaturization and lowering in price of digital storage.  Moore’s law states that the power and speed of computers doubles every 18 months and the price drops in half at the same time.  With a promise to do some further research, here is Houle’s Law of Storage:  Every two years digital capacity increases ten fold and drops in price five fold.  This is nothing short of a transformational trend.

What is so interesting about the breakthrough announced by GE last week is that it is in the field of holographic storage.  Holography is an optical process that stores both three dimensional images and digital data as well.  The data is encoded in light patterns that are stored in light sensitive material..  Holographic storage has been in development for 40 years, but is only now, with this breakthrough, is it clearly close to coming to the commercial and then consumer market.

To put this development in real terms for those of you that are moving into HD DVDs, when the Blu-ray was introduced in 2006 the cost was $1 per gigabyte.  When the GE holographic discs are introduced to the market in two years, the technology will drive the cost down to 10 cents a gigabyte.

Think about your digital library in several years.  Every image ever taken of you and your immediate  family from birth to death, including video, will be on one DVD.  The entire works of directors such as Coppola or Scorsese will be on a single disc.  The entire contents of a major university library can reside on a single DVD.    Content, and the storage of it, is soon to be at a stage completely unimaginable 50 years ago. The words library, collection, archives, and storage will become completely redefined from any prior use in human history.

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