back to article China breakthrough promises optical discs that store hundreds of terabytes

Optical discs that can store up to 200 TB of data could be possible with a new technology developed in China. If commercialized, it could revive optical media as an alternative to hard disk or tape for cost-effective long-term storage. Researchers at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology (USST) and Shanghai …

  1. Tron Silver badge

    We won't be allowed it.

    Washington will lean on their vassal states to ban it for national security reasons.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: We won't be allowed it.

      To the contrary.

      GCHQ will be among the first customers.

      When you're recording every internet transmission and phone conversation in the UK you quickly find even the cheapest storage is not quite cheap enough.

      1. Binraider Silver badge

        Re: We won't be allowed it.

        Tape is great for bulk storage, but search is weak and the supply chain for the drives is a real bugbear particularly for smaller outfits.

        BD-DL isn't quite big enough for my local backup purposes and so anything in this area is a welcome development. It is unfortunate the origins are where they are, but hey, if we aren't going to invest in our R&D supply chain at home...

        Sony, along with the other traditional players in optical storage development don't seem to have that much interest in developing a successor given they appear to be much happier serving up subscription services. Despite the P&L still being rather poor.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: We won't be allowed it.

        Would be "funny" if the Chinese government stop exports of this technology citing "National Security" akin 2nm technology for CPUs

  2. Wellyboot Silver badge

    New use for laser spectroscopy!

    This has a vast potential if enough r/w heads can be squeezed into a small box.

    Even with the prototype specs it'll eventually be big improvement in near line storage capacity.

  3. Red Ted
    Pint

    Pause for a moment…

    …and open the desk drawer.

    At the back are some rolls of punch tape that have been knocking about for around 50years…

    Sigh nostalgically!

  4. cyberdemon Silver badge
    Windows

    I seem to remember Microsoft tried something similar

    https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/project/project-silica/

    I'm not sure that they were terribly successful.. Is this vastly different?

    1. David-M

      Re: I seem to remember Microsoft tried something similar

      I've seen quite a few 3D storage technologies mentioned over the years but yet to hear of any that became available. Still, one of them may succeed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I seem to remember Microsoft tried something similar

        DVDs have been multi layer for ages. It's only a little bit 3D, but it's 3D

  5. Denarius

    buzzword bingo

    Sounds too much like. Another wonder technology announced then blackholed with no accretion disk emission

    1. Paul Herber Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: buzzword bingo

      I noticed the word "doughnut" in there as well.

  6. chuckufarley Silver badge

    I thought we learned...

    ...the last time we had optical media that promises of it's durability and longevity almost never panned out. Not to mention the colossal amount of garbage it created.

    Skeptical? Who, me?

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: I thought we learned...

      I recently found some DVD-R discs I recorded about 20 years ago. They read fine. There are a couple of important tricks needed to make this work. Ignore the 50,000x recording speed claim on the discs and the drive. Record at the minimum speed supported by the drive. Secondly, check that you can read back immediately afterwards. The real problem with DVD is the tiny capacity.

      1. xanadu42

        Re: I thought we learned...

        > Record at the minimum speed supported by the drive. Secondly, check that you can read back immediately afterwards

        Learned that after five fails in-a-row when backing up data for a client to a CD-R...

        But the other bit I learned was that the CD-R might not be readable in a drive from a different manufacturer so I always checked the CD-R in a drive from a different manufacturer...

        So much for "Standards" (an issue still today with some brands of USB 3 Flash Drives which perform worse than USB 2 Flash Drives when writing using a USB 3 capable port)

        1. andy gibson

          Re: I thought we learned...

          CD+R and CD-R wars!

          1. seven of five
            Headmaster

            Re: I thought we learned...

            That was DVD. CD-R was about 74, 80 an 90 Minute Media (or the respective capacity in Megabytes)

          2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

            Re: I thought we learned...

            > CD+R and CD-R wars!

            Never happened. There was only ever CD-R.

            DVD has - and + formats which are still both made today. + is superior.

        2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

          Re: I thought we learned...

          > But the other bit I learned was that the CD-R might not be readable in a drive from a different manufacturer so I always checked the CD-R in a drive from a different manufacturer...

          That has never happened, ever.

      2. Snapper

        Re: I thought we learned...

        The 128GB M-Disks are still available.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M-DISC

    2. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: I thought we learned...

      When I was in college, one of my roomies was a graduating senior. This was in the heyday of online piracy, so almost every free minute he had was spent downloading anything and everything he thought might be useful off the college network and burning it onto a CD. He literally wore out a burner drive in a couple of months through near non-stop use. Probably warped the lens from the heat. I don't think he ever actually touched any of that stuff after graduation.

    3. abend0c4 Silver badge

      Re: I thought we learned...

      There's clearly a lot of incentive to come up with archiving solutions for the increasing data bloat in commercial bit barns, but the domestic and SME market could do with something with less capacity (say around 1TB) that's also affordable.

      That generally means a cheap reader/writer: the cost of a drive is noise if you're generating hundreds of tapes a year, but it's a significant factor if you're mainly backing up your family videos from time to time or periodically backing up your small office server.

      Although Blu-ray capacity has increased to 128GB, it's not really sufficient and, byte-for-byte, the old DL (50GB) disks are cheaper and write at a similar speed. The low-tech solution would be to make the disks bigger.

    4. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: I thought we learned...

      I've CDs from the 80s that are perfectly fine.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I thought we learned...

        Better be careful when you spin them up in a too fast drive or they may shatter - early CDs were not designed with higher than 1x read speeds in mind (on account of that idea not existing yet) and if they fail they do so pretty spectacular - and sometimes take the drive out in the process..

      2. Lurko

        Re: I thought we learned...

        "I've CDs from the 80s that are perfectly fine."

        So have I. And I've got CDs from the 80s and 90s that are corroding either as pinholes, or progressively from edge and centre, along with a whole assortment of warped, discoloured and off-centre defects. The idea of having hundreds of layers would seem to be an extremely good way of losing a whole lot of data in one go.

        1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

          Re: I thought we learned...

          Wow, I have never ever seen any optical disc rot at all.

          You must live on Venus. Or, you have shoddy discs.

          I find apart from the known isue with old 90's CD's pressed in the UK by PDO, the only case of further damage seems to be in the US. Something about your harsh environments (perhaps the air conditioning) or they were made in the US by substandard factories (princo discs, you''l be better off with paper!).

          The only thing that was odd recently was I opened up a commercial DVD that I hadnt opened in about 10 years. The disc was, misty. Like it had permanant condensation on it. I was like, "OMG I finally have found a case of degredation", only I noticed that whatever it was casta shadow on the reflective layer. It was on teh surface and, my finger smudged it. Something oily on the disc! So I simply gave it a light wash in the sink, just a damp soapy bit of tissue and it was clean as a whistle.

          Then I looked at the inside of the case, it was in there too. I wiped that away with some IPA this time. Then I found out that some case plastics outgas and leave oily residue on themselves and the discs. Turns out the deposit on the disc is harmless, but unless cleaned off will caurse read issues. That mate is the only time Ive seen anything that gave me cause for concern about optical media and it turned out to merely be an annoyance in the end.

          For comparison, my discs, pressed ones are in a typically heated UK livingroom which obviously has no AC. The burned media are in cases, spinles and the oldests are in a few binders which use plastic sleeves. These are kept out of sunlight and are zipped up for months on end.

          ONly 2 discs showed issues when doing an error scan, Tesco branded DVD+R DL discs. The errors had not even got close to being uncorrectable but are above my threshold for concern, thus they were burned to new discs. The errors were at the edge, at the layer transition. My Verbatim DVD+R DL and BD-R DL also show an uptick in error rates at the edges but it's hardly anything to worry about.

          1. chuckufarley Silver badge
            Mushroom

            Re: I thought we learned...

            Now that those in power have decided that every living thing on Earth (as well every non-living thing) must endure a minimum of 1.5C raise in global temperatures your data is doomed unless you find find a new storage format. Happy Hunting!

    5. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Re: I thought we learned...

      > the last time we had optical media that promises of it's durability and longevity almost never panned out

      Which was?

      1. chuckufarley Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: I thought we learned...

        Are you telling us that you never learned for the past? Do you still have an eight track cassette player too?

  7. aerogems Silver badge

    Yawn

    Wake me when there's an actual product I can buy. Until then, it's just a cool lab experiment.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Yawn

      By the time it arrives, flash storage will be cheaper per TB, orders of magnitude faster, smaller, longer lasting, and physically more robust.

      1. simonlb Silver badge

        Re: Yawn

        orders of magnitude faster

        That is your main bottleneck right there. It's ok saying up to 200TB of storage, but how long is it going to take to write that volume of data to the disc, let alone read it all back? There needs to be a significant increase in the data i/o speeds on PC's to make something like this viable to develop further otherwise it will be a waste of time.

      2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

        Re: Yawn

        > By the time it arrives, flash storage will be cheaper per TB, orders of magnitude faster, smaller, longer lasting, and physically more robust.

        And pigs will have learnt to fly drones.

        > longer lasting

        I cant belive that for a second, nobody is loking at archival flash. They all claim up to 10 years simply because they have no clue. ALl they know for sure is if you write to it only ONCE, that data will stay put for a very long time. But the more you use the device, the weaker it gets, to the point that it may hold data only for a few weeks!

        If they were looking at actually defining the longevity of flash, I'll take that statement more seriously. Otherwise it;s all just a coin toss and by the time we get these optical discs we will still be tossing the coins.

        > cheaper per TB

        Thats the big con with flash. It never actually gets cheaper, just bigger. I want 4GB SD cards for 30p dammit!! A DVD+R is waaaaay cheaper than flash.

        > smaller

        Christ I hope not! microSD is small enough thanks!

        > physically more robust

        Even a CF card will survive being driven over, I dont think there is much more room for imporovemnt here.

  8. John Riddoch

    How long is it readable for? This is pointless for archive storage if it degrades within 10 years. The problem is that you're not really sure on the longevity until you've stored it for a while.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hey it's 2057 ... oh what do you mean that we have nothing that understands Word 95 or even a machine that will run it ?

    2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      > The problem is that you're not really sure on the longevity until you've stored it for a while.

      Well yes but everyone will expect acelerated aging tests instead. Tests that are done on CD/DVD/BD-R, LTO tape et, but oddly not done on HDD and flash devices.

  9. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "while also claiming"

    Look, I am excited by this possibility.

    But China has form in claiming stunning breakthroughs that don't actually exist.

    So, I'll wait for a product before hoping that it's real.

  10. Ball boy Silver badge

    Read/write speed may be the barrier to adoption here

    There's only so fast you can spin a plastic disk before there's physical issues with its stability. They tend to fly apart if you get carried away and they expand slightly even at lower speeds, suggesting some complex offsetting will be needed to cope with the track density these things would have if you want to pirouette reasonably quickly. Back when optical media was still the rage, their I/O rate was acceptable given the capacity of the media (where did they top-out? Around the 2.6Gb mark for double-sided platters IIRC) and the fact that the host bus couldn't deal with the Gb/s rates expected today. Things have moved on: if I want to move such vast quantities of data, I'll need sustained transfer speeds that mean I can do it quickly enough to make the device practical.

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Read/write speed may be the barrier to adoption here

      With 100 layers, add as many heads as you are willing to pay for. The rotational latency will remain the same, but you wanted throughput.

    2. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: Read/write speed may be the barrier to adoption here

      Maybe for consumers, but if we're talking an off-site enterprise backup medium... capacity will trump access speeds.

    3. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Re: Read/write speed may be the barrier to adoption here

      > where did they top-out? Around the 2.6Gb mark for double-sided platters IIRC

      Where have you been? Try 33 GB per layer.

      besides, its not about how fast you spin the disc, christ a CD can spin faster than you can blink, but the data density that affects the speeds. As this media is very dense youll just spin it like a 1x CD and get a throughput that will saturate any IO connection we have today.

  11. vekkq

    Erase hundreds of terabytes with one simple scratch!

    1. mark l 2 Silver badge

      I am guessing should these ever make it to being commercially available we will be back to having optical media in caddies to protect them from dust and scratches which could make GB of data inaccessible?

    2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      > Erase hundreds of terabytes with one simple scratch!

      If you are able to make a scratch. BD-R are nearly impossible to scratch without intentionally trying to do it!

      But a HDD is easy to kill just by accidentally dropping it. An optical disc would just need to be wiped clean after picking up some dust from the floor.

  12. Snowy Silver badge
    Coat

    Come back when you have done it

    With 100 layers to a disc plus a minimum spot size of 54 nm and a lateral track pitch of 70 nm, the researchers estimate this should make possible a capacity of 1.6 petabits (200 TB) within the area of a DVD-sized disc.

    Sounds nice but until you have done it, it is just words.

    Spot size for a DVD are around 400 nm long and the spiral track's pitch is 0.74 micrometres (740 nm) using a wavelength of laser light of 650nm, and the layers are about .1mm (100μm)

    Around about 1/8th the pit size (or is it 1/80th? 1/8th long and about 1/10 the width) and a 1/10th the track pitch but only a small change in the wave length of the laser being used. 480nm vs 650nm

  13. spold Silver badge

    Femtosecond

    In case you are confused, that is roughly 8,26719576719578E-22 of a Fortnight in proper units.

    1. Bill Gray

      Re: Femtosecond

      ...or a little under a zepto-fortnight (zFn).

      (I realize hyphens are not usually added after SI prefixes, but "zeptofortnight" looks like letter salad to me. If it makes the meaning clearer, I'm putting a hyphen in, no matter what the pedants say.)

      Well, I've just wasted quadrillions of femtoseconds on this. Time to move on.

  14. talk_is_cheap

    "However, for archive purposes, the tech may not have much of a lead over plain old tape technology. Last year, IBM announced the TS1170 tape drive with 50 TB cartridges, which are capable of storing up to 150 TB through 3:1 compression."

    What an odd comment to make - using the same level of compression such an optical disk would store 600 TB.

    1. Smirnov

      Just that the TS1170 is available today, and since IBM is still developing tape systems (it's actually one of the few remaining great things coming out of IBM) by the time this 200TB optical disk will actually be available for purchase IBM's 3592 will have progressed as well (the TS1180 with 80TB native is already in the pipeline, an it's successor is said to likely store 150TB native).

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        The point is that it's an invalid comparison.

        Compare the native. Everyone can compress, so the only important figure is the native.

        50TB tape is available right now, 80TB has presumably been demonstrated. Beyond that is plausible but doesn't yet exist.

        1. Smirnov

          It's not an invalid comparison. Optical disks are too slow to be used as mass storage (especially in an age of flash based storage) and software distribution on physical media is all but dead, so the only remaining use cases for the discs in the article are backup and archiving.

          Where it has to compete with tape.

          There's a reason all the optical backup/archiving formats, including the various MO formats, have long died out while tape is still standing.

          1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

            > Where it has to compete with tape.

            Not hard to do, the only way tape wins over optical today is capacity. Thats it. Remove that, giving the discs as much or more capacity as a tape and it wipes the floor with tapes due to its random access nature.

            Not even LTFS would stand a chance.

            Tape, with its shell will however have better durability, but with hard coatings even a disc is nearly impossible to sctarch and the disc takes up less tom than the tapes.

          2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

            > There's a reason all the optical backup/archiving formats, including the various MO formats, have long died out while tape is still standing.

            Tell me the reason as CD/DVD/and BD-R are still everywhere and used as such.

            1. chuckufarley Silver badge
              Facepalm

              Because...

              ...Some people don't learn from history?

              Also, they are not everywhere. They are just everywhere you are looking.

    2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Also, one major selling point over tape is the disc is random access.

      Tape isnt, even if you use LTFS you still need to wind the tape back and forth.

      When CD came out there was also DAT and DCC, tape formats that had the same audio quality (or close) as CD and that could also seek to find a track. Thing is the CD went to the selected track immediatly, while the tapes took a few seconds to wind to it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Constant linear velocity

        I had a front loading CD player where you could see the disc spinning. When playing near the end of the album, it was a lot slower than when playing near the beginning because the bitrate had to be constant and they could get more bits per revolution at the edge. Anyway, I swear what limited the seek time on my old CD player was slowing the disc rotation. You'd hear the motor move the head, then it would take a couple of seconds to get the speed right and start playing.

  15. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    100 layers?

    How many times can you spin-coat before it gets too lumpy? Probably not 100 and still be flat enough for such a high areal density.

    If the real-world density ends up in the 10 TB ballpark it might be superior density, but not by enough to become a new product. These days it's not too hard to keep SSD and HDD arrays powered up and running scrubs. I've had my storage server running in various forms since the Blue & White G3 Mac came out. As long as its powered up enough to error correct (RAID or manual backup), it's pretty safe. I've only lost a few files total, thanks to the infamous IBM Deskstar 75GXP failing and incredibly fast rates.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: 100 layers?

      As I understand it, the 100 layers is a function of the heads, not the media. The media appears to be homogeneous.

      So it's plausible to manufacture, although making a CD-sized disc sufficiently homogeneous throughout is a tough challenge.

    2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Re: 100 layers?

      There are not 100 separate layers. The layers are made during the burning process, you only spin coat one thick layer of material and burn the data layers into that.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    .....but.....

    .....physical backups are just the start:

    (1) Test a restore IMMEDIATELY after creating the backup

    (2) Keep the backup off-site

    (3) Review the backup process regularly to make sure everything that needs backing up IS ACTUALLY ON THE BACKUP

    So......technology is one thing.....and PROCESS is quite another thing! I've worked in places where none of items #1, #2 or #3 are ever done!

  17. GraXXoR

    Lovely... Now if someone will just wake me up when the drives and media are actually on sale to the general public... much obliged.

    Extra points if the device is portable and runs on next generation graphene/ceramic/whatever solid state batteries that have been "Just around the corner" for the last two decades.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Trolling for grant money

    "IMpoRTanT nEw TeCHnoLoGY Ju$T A fEw YeArS AwaY!

    We made it sorta kinda just a little work once in a lab, we promise! Gib us money!"

    - Every academic department looking for a new grant

  19. pip25
    Meh

    Missing important use cases

    Audio made the CD ubiquitous. Video helped the DVD spread. And Blu-ray failed to make the same splash exactly because at that point, many people had an Internet connection that was good enough to just stream whatever they were interested in.

    So, what would they be selling on these disks with petabit capacity? Because I doubt archival in itself will let it get off the ground.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Missing important use cases

      Archive cares about longevity and bits per volume, and has far higher budgets than any consumer format.

      Tape is still king there, even though it's not been used anywhere else for many years.

      If this optical storage can roughly match tape read and write speeds and meet or exceed longevity, then it has a significant market as it'll be physically smaller than the equivalent tape library.

      Assuming it actually works, of course. A lab demo is not a product - though it may become one, given time and budget.

    2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Re: Missing important use cases

      > And Blu-ray failed to make the same splash exactly because at that point, many people had an Internet connection that was good enough to just stream whatever they were interested in.

      The actual reason more like this:

      1. VHS made home video popular, not DVD.

      2. SVHS failed because people already had VHS and didn’t care enough to have a new machine and tapes just for a better picture

      3. DVD came about and now the public were ready for a picture upgrade, also eventually getting DVD recording too. The old tapes were old by now, SVHS just was too new with not enough benefit. DVD went into a market ready for such an upgrade.

      4. Bluray came out, like SVHS it has struggled because even with people having HD TV's most people don’t care about HD enough to stop buying DVD or swear they can’t tell the difference, still! It is well known that DVD sells better than bluray, thus many shows and movies ONLY get a DVD release as it’s cheaper to make and buy and makes loads of sales. If it were just "the age of streaming" that caused blueray to have less sales, why are people still buying loads of DVDs?

      It’s all in the numbers. The films and TV shows getting physical releases don’t just sit on the shelves and evaporate, they have to sell otherwise they wouldn’t be produced in the first place. I mean FGS, Audio CD is still everywhere and all bands, at least the ones I listen to, release new albums on Audio CD and even Vinyl too. Super Audio CD? DVD Audio? Didn’t grab the market, no longer made besides some SA CD's for classical markets. DVD Audio fizzled out and was simply replaced with Video DVD that had the audio and video (such as a concert) on it! Same quality, more standard.

      Audio CD, still made and sells. DVD Video, still made and sells. Bluray still made and sells well enough. UHD bluray still fairly new and does sell to enthusiasts and those who care enough about 4K TV's to actually want to view 4K on them.

      As for streaming, well, that has been getting some bad rap as of late with hikes in subscription costs and the inclusion of adverts. People went to streaming NOT to escape DVD, but to escape ADVERTS. WE ALL WENT TO NETFLIX TO AVOID ADVERTS. Plus, we were told that EVERYTHING would be on streaming, yet a decade or so later, and we have adverts and FAR FROM EVERYTHING, with things vanishing randomly, even when you were told you OWNED IT FOREVER.

      So, streaming is now starting to lose out to DVD and bluray again. Even Disney has released SW expanded universe stuff on DVD and bluray to try and capture new subscribers to Disney+.

      Not everyone is a sheep mate, we can’t all be herded and follow the herd to the next fashionable thing. Many who do, get bored of it and wander off back to where they started or somewhere near it (people still buy books printed on dead trees would you believe!). Some like me watch the herd and follow after they finish making a mess of things, or I stay put. And people like me have MONEY to spend. Thats why Audio CD etc still havnt died, and why vinyl popped back.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    up to 100 layers on

    later magically turns into:

    "With 100 layers"

    with a double-magic of 'should'.

  21. Piro Silver badge

    Nice to have the little piece about optical media once a decade

    What was it last time? Holographic?

    This'll go nowhere

    1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Re: Nice to have the little piece about optical media once a decade

      The problem with the holographic discs were the lasers. As compenets they had to be tiny and were simply not really useful.

      This new disc uses 4 lasers for different stages of reading and writing and as comp[onents they are more usable.

      What they did here was find a way a BIG laser diode can make marks way smaller than its wavelength. None of the holographic systems could do that.

  22. CAPS LOCK

    Every single time someone mentions tape...

    ... I have PTSD flashbacks of the whining of Qic40/80 tapes. Slow, noisy and unreliable. They put me off tape in all form forever.

    1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Re: Every single time someone mentions tape...

      Never had a problem with tapes. I have DDS tapes from 1990

  23. dadbot5000

    Where's the backdoor that copies all your data to CCP servers for later perusal?

  24. thx135

    China = blah blah blah!!!

  25. Chris Evans

    Compressing already compressed files!

    "IBM announced the TS1170 tape drive with 50 TB cartridges, which are capable of storing up to 150 TB through 3:1 compression." I suspect the 3:1 compression statement must have been heavily qualified. With many large files JPEG, MPEG etc having inherent compression I doubt a 3:1 average is possible on the files on my hard drive!

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