Seeing through holographic storage

Every now and then, it's nice to sit back, drink in hand, and contemplate the future. When done in the wrong environment of course, this often leads to job loss or worse, but under the right circumstances, it can often be fun. So today, we will gaze into Karp's crystal fishbowl and consider some future storage technologies.

Let's consider the unfortunate case of Captain James T. Kirk.

The good captain, you will recall, flew about the galaxy in the old Enterprise fighting Klingons, Romulans and assorted other baddies with lots of weaponry but without, alas, the availability of a holographic deck for R&R. (For the uninitiated, holo decks were mostly recreational facilities that used holograms to imitate reality.) The crew of the next generation Enterprise had holo decks galore, and probably because of this their crews always seemed much better adjusted.

Now these holo decks were a pretty neat invention, and Kirk's crew should have been annoyed at not having had one. Why? Because holographic technology had been around at least since the mid-1980s, and by the first decade of the 21st century holographic storage was beginning to appear in its earliest forms.

The promise of holographic storage is that much more data can be stored in the same amount of surface area as is used by today's storage technology. How is this done? Holographic storage accomplishes this because it not only can see data on the media's surface; it also sees the data below the surface.

Holographic storage uses a laser to read from almost all of the media's volume ("volume" in this case is the geometric volume). In other words, rather than just reading the surface, it reads in three dimensions rather than two, resulting in many multiples of additional storage when compared to current technologies.

Improved data density is not the only benefit of holo storage. This is an optical, rather than a magnetic media technology, and while the split laser beam that reads and writes the data moves, the lasers themselves do not. Furthermore, the distances between the lasers and the media are quite large when compared to the relationship between disk and head in today's disk drives. The result of this is that media is easy to extract, and the drives themselves are potentially much less prone to mechanical problems.

The optical age may presage the end of the head crash.

Perhaps just as significant, disk data will move on and off the media many times than can ever be the case with mechanical devices.

We are still a few years away from all this, as the technology right now is quite expensive when compared to what we already have. But practical holographic devices may be only two years away.

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