The Future of Data Storage


One of the most revolutionary discoveries in the history of mankind is the data storage technology. No one before would have ever imagined that data which is so limitless could be stored only in the form of 0’s and 1’s. We have already come a long way from punch cards and magnetic disks to cloud storage and holograms. Companies are capturing more data than ever, and the demand for storage is growing as the industry learns how to do more with data. According to IDC (International Data Corporation), 34.7 billion gigabytes of storage were shipped in the second quarter of 2016 alone. Compare that to the very first hard-disk drive that was produced in 1956 – which came in at five megabytes of storage – and consider the fact that it would take seven trillion of those disk drives to match what the industry produces now.

The world’s appetite for data storage is growing continuously; the growth in big data is fueling innovations in developing cognitive learning applications, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big-data analytics. Thanks to innovations like solid-state drives and object storage that enables public and private storage clouds to manage data at enormous scale. But this is not the end; some recent innovations in this field will offer enterprises cheaper, faster and more energy efficient storage. Let us take at these technologies:

Helium filled disks:
In an attempt to build higher-capacity, energy-efficient hard drives, a few manufacturers have come up with a novel solution: filling the hard drive case with helium. Because helium is one-seventh as dense as air, the spinning platters in a helium drive encounter less resistance and experience almost no turbulence. As a result, more platters can be put into a drive and track data on those platters more precisely, greatly increasing drive density. This increased storage density results in a lower cost per gigabyte and also a lower total cost of ownership (TCO). The smaller motor required to drive the disk consumes 23 percent less power and runs 4-5 degrees cooler. Thus, it also decreases energy use, makes the drive quieter and improves reliability.

Helium filled disk storage diagram


Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR):
Perpendicular recording (PMR) is a technology for data recording on hard disks. But SMR is a new hard drive recording technology. SMR achieves higher areal densities by squeezing tracks closer together. Tracks overlap one another, like shingles on a roof, allowing more data to be written to the same space. As new data is written, the drive tracks are trimmed, or shingled. Because the reader element on the drive head is smaller than the writer, all data can still be read off the trimmed track without compromise to data integrity or reliability. SMR drives are currently available for purchase, and the technology continues to improve.

Shielded Magnetic Recording Diagram

Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR):
HAMR technology is believed to hit areal densities beyond 1.5 Terabytes (TB) per inch square. Heat-assisted magnetic recording technology briefly heats magnetic recording media with a special laser close to Curie point (the temperature at which ferromagnetic materials lose their permanent magnetic properties) to reduce its coercivity while writing data on it. With HAMR, a tiny laser heats up the part of the spinning disk that is being written, allowing the write tracks to be much smaller. HAMR HDDs will feature a new architecture, require new media, completely redesigned read/write heads with a laser as well as a special near-field optical transducer (NFT) and a number of other components not used or mass produced today.

Heat assisted magnetic recording diagram

DNA Storage: 
It is the strangest new storage technology. Yes, DNA, the molecule that stores biological information could be used to store other kinds of data. Harvard researchers in 2012 were able to encode DNA with digital information, including a 53,400-word book in HTML, eleven JPEG images, and one JavaScript program. DNA offers incredible storage density, 2.2 petabytes per gram, which means that a DNA hard drive about the size of a teaspoon could fit all of the world’s data on it–every song ever composed, book ever written, video ever shared. Besides the space savings, DNA is ideal for long-term storage. Lead Harvard researcher George Church says “You can drop DNA wherever you want, in the desert or your backyard, and it will be there 400,000 years later.”

Counting everything from astronomical images and journal articles to YouTube videos, the global digital archive will hit an estimated 44 trillion gigabytes (GB) by 2020, a tenfold increase over 2013. So, data storage is a challenge that the world faces, today. At the moment DNA synthesis is far too expensive to use DNA data storage commercially, but in the future it could be viable for long term archiving of government data and other information that needs to be archived long term for regulatory compliance purposes. Although, scientists have been putting in efforts to synthesize artificial DNA to store information, achieving that potential won’t be easy. Before DNA can become a viable competitor to conventional storage technologies, researchers will have to surmount a host of challenges, from reliably encoding information in DNA and retrieving only the information a user needs, to making nucleotide strings cheaply and quickly enough.

DNA Storage Diagram

Rucha is a gregarious person pursuing engineering in Information Technology. She has worked as an editor for college magazines and a freelance technology journalist. She loves to explore technology and elucidate it to her readers from her writing. She believes that if science & technology is made available in lucid manner, it can be perceived as an art by all.


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