5D data discs can supposedly last billions of years and store terabytes of data at a time. That sounds good, but what are the disadvantages of this technology?
A new discovery has been made: a data storage technique that allows a single device to record data in five dimensions and keep it intact for billions of years – longer than the remaining lifespan of our sun. The credit goes to researchers at the University of Southampton Optics Research Center.
How it works? Using a method that etches data on thermally stable disks with femtosecond laser bursts. If this sounds like a confusing mess of technobabble, do not worry. We will break it down for you later in this article.
The important thing about this discovery is that this storage device can hold up to 360 TB of data per disk and can survive at room temperature for 14 billion years without data loss. Not only that, but it can withstand temperatures up to 1,000 degrees Celsius if necessary.
In other words, we now have a way to store data loads without having to worry about reliability or permanence. The world will produce about 27 billion terabytes of data by 2020, and from this point of view, this kind of discovery could not have come at a better time.
Why are 5D data discs important?
Data stored on a physical medium such as hard discs, SSDs, USB sticks will not last forever: how long will your storage medium last? How long will hard drives, SSDs, thumb drives continue to work, and how long will they store your data if you use them for archiving? This is obvious, especially if the medium where these data are stored is constantly exposed to wear. This goes for everything from CDs and DVDs to portable flash drives.
In simple terms, no matter how reliable your physical media is. Eventually, it will fail, and you will lose the data stored inside. But how long can you expect these things to last?
According to a 2013 study by BackBlaze, 5% of all monitored data readers failed in the first 18 months. The most likely culprit? Manufacturing defects and external causes such as serious power outages. In addition, of the remaining orders that were stable, only 74% lasted more than four years of active use.
On the contrary, these numbers show that physical media are prone to failure, and we have not even looked at CDs or DVDs, which can be easily damaged by scratches or surface defects. Unfortunately, we know very little about solid-state drives and their long-term reliability because the technology has not been long enough.
Comparatively, the storage medium that scientists have perfected will allow us to store personal data on 5D discs indefinitely for future generations. Just to help you imagine, family photos stored on a 5D disk, for example, could be kept for millions of years – longer in fact – and reviewed by generations alive at that time.
How 5D Disc Technology Works?
Southampton researchers initially unveiled 5D technology in 2013, although they have not yet perfected it. When they announced it for the first time, they were only able to store about 300 KB of test data on a disc – which is infinitely less than the 360 TB they can hold on new disks.
5D glass discs are only 3 inches in diameter, much smaller than a CD, DVD or Blu-Ray disc. In comparison, modern DVDs only contain 4.7 GB of data while dual-layer DVDs can hold about 8.5 GB. Blu-Ray Discs can hold 25 to 128 GB of data.
So, how is this possible? All of this has to do with how the physical media is used to store data.
When data is stored on a normal CD, a laser is used to engrave tiny edges on an extremely small line. When this CD is placed in a reader, the reading laser passes along these infinitely small lines and when it hits one of the bumps, the light is reflected.
With computers, as you may know, they read the data in ones and zeroes. Thus, when light is reflected on a disc, it is recorded as a light, and when the light is not reflected, it is recorded as a zero. This is how physical disks can be used to store all kinds of data such as music, movies, images, software and more.
With discs like CDs and DVDs, these bumps are made on the surface. This means that individual patterns on the surface can be ruined by scratches, scratches, extreme exposure to oxygen, heat and even moisture. When this happens, the stored data becomes corrupted or completely lost.
Data and Computers
5D disc is similar, but this information is stored inside the disc – not on the surface – inside structures called “nanogratings”. They work just like the edges on the surface of a traditional disc, changing the way the light is reflected by a laser.
But the exception – and that’s how they store so much more data – is that these structures can be used to think and encode in five “dimensions” as opposed to two, hence the name of 5D data disk.
When light is reflected on a 5D disc, reading lasers can measure the orientation of the nanograting to discern its relative location on the x, y, and z axes. In other words, the data can be stored in multiple dimensions, allowing 5D disks to hold an incredible amount of information.
The advantages and disadvantages of 5D discs
5D discs can last much longer than traditional discs because they are made of glass. As fundamental science has learned, glass is not easy to melt or deform, and it is chemically stable. That’s what makes 5D disks much stronger than plastic discs, especially when it comes to extreme temperatures.
Hard Disc Search
Because nanogrators are stored inside 5D discs rather than on the surface, it also means that the data is less sensitive to external manipulation. So, obviously, the biggest advantage is that the data stored on a 5D disc is much safer. Some other benefits include:
- They are smaller in size, so storing the actual drives is easier and takes up less space overall.
- They are quite thick, so unless the glass used to make the discs is extremely fragile, they can withstand decent wear. Imagine if they were built using material like Gorilla Glass.
- Things like temperature, oxygen, humidity, and even dust are not a factor in disc storage because they will not affect the data on the disc.
In theory, because the discs are smaller, the technology used to read them could be relatively small. Remember, this is only compared to your average CD or DVD player.
Computers and Data Discs
Conversely, some potential disadvantages of the technology include:
- Researchers have not said it yet, but because of the nature of the technology, it’s hard to imagine that 5D disks would support multiple writing processes.
- If the point above is indeed a factor, then it is a lot of wasted space if you do not use all that is available to you the first time you write on the disc.
- As this is a new technology, it will likely be expensive, which means it could be ridiculously expensive to deploy and maintain – these are just some of the caveats of upgrading too soon.
- Would reading and writing on glass create more heat inside the computer / hardware? This may be something that researchers will need to explore before commercializing the technology.
The Future of 5D Data Discs
Currently, this technology will have no immediate effect on anything because it will not be available to consumers or most of the industry for a long time, if at all. However, if this technology becomes commercialized, it will change the way we interact with most devices, especially with regard to data storage.
Mobile devices, for example, could store a lot more data, as long as this technology can be reduced enough for use on a portable scale. Even if this does not happen, the disc drives used in computers would shrink in size, in addition to media players using similar technology.
Then, of course, there is the angle of storage of the data. We would be able to preserve the data for much longer. They say that on the Internet, nothing ever goes away. In fact, almost all our data is slowly being lost. Can we protect our media for future generations? Indeed, it would allow us to record everything about our current civilization for future generations to refer to it. Just this fact, in itself, is incredible.