The power of gold is being put to use for a new type of high-capacity optical disk that can hold data securely for more than 600 years. It’s a step toward a new era for the data storage aspect of what is generally referred to as Big Data: Researchers are now talking of a shift to what they call “Long Data.”
Today’s data centers use enormous amounts of energy — about 3 percent of the world’s electricity supply. Yet they rely largely on hard disk drives that are limited in terms of their lifespan (up to two years) and capacity (up to 2 terabytes per disk). Optical disks, which are inherently far more secure than hard disks, could help to address the capacity problem — but the most advanced optical disks so far developed have lifespans of just 50 years.
However, scientists at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and Wuhan Institute of Technology, China, have now demonstrated a next-generation optical disk that leverages gold nanomaterials to extend lifespan to several centuries, while also increasing storage by 400 percent. The technology could radically improve the energy efficiency of data centers by requiring significantly less cooling and eliminating the need for data migration every two years. The new research paves the way for the development of optical disk centers to support what lead investigator Min Gu of RMIT calls the coming “Long Data revolution.”
"All the data we're generating in the Big Data era -- over 2.5 quintillion bytes a day -- has to be stored somewhere, but our current storage technologies were developed in different times," Gu explained. "While there is further work needed to optimize the technology -- and we're keen to partner with industrial collaborators to drive the research forward -- we know this technique is suitable for mass production of optical disks, so the potential is staggering.”
Indeed: If the storage challenge can be addressed, Long Data offers the potential for discoveries in fields ranging from social science to astrophysics.
"To study the mutation of just one human family tree, 8 terabytes of data is required to analyze the genomes across 10 generations. In astronomy, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope produces 576 petabytes of raw data per hour,” notes Dr. Qiming Zhang, senior research fellow at RMIT. “Meanwhile the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative to 'map' the human brain is handling data measured in yottabytes, or one trillion terabytes. These enormous amounts of data have to last over generations to be meaningful.”
The researchers’ optical disk technology combines gold nanomaterials with a hybrid glass composite material that has outstanding mechanical strength. A paper on the research is published in a recent edition of Nature Communications.