While cloud storage remains the most visible part of consumer storage in the entire tech ecosystem, the part that requires the most capacity remains hidden. Long-term archiving and data storage by hyperscalers and service providers has gained steam over the past decade as more of our lives – especially during the COVID lockdown – took place online.
Optical storage (think DVD and Blu-ray) has been in the shadows, while tape, exotic media (such as silica or DNA), and hard drives vie for supremacy in the hotly contested realm of archiving. But a newcomer Folio Photonicsaims to deliver the goods faster than anyone else by putting a new spin on existing optical technology.
The startup company, a spin-off of the Center for Layered Polymeric Systems, a National Science Foundation-funded Science and Technology Center, is a newcomer to a crowded market, and we’ve talked (almost) with its CEO, Steve Santamaria, about the future of this exciting technology.
I can trace the first glimpse of a 1TB optical drive to 2007. Why did it take so long to get a commercially viable product?
It appears that the commercial production of 1 TB drives using the traditional spin coating method is difficult to do while maintaining yields and margins. Folio’s breakthrough is about the production process of coextruded films as well as advanced materials science. The manufacturing process allows for commercial scale and affordable cost. This allows Folio to deliver high optical capacity at a fraction of the typical optical storage cost.
Your press release lists $5 per TB while your site lists $3 per TB, which one is correct?
Both are right. This will be a market/business decision. Folio plans to have the lowest $/TB of any current storage media when we ship the first product, but we recognize that data archive storage is a commodity and will manage our price and roadmap accordingly to deliver the best value to our customers. deliver and for our investors.
How is your optical disc different from a traditional Blu-ray disc? What is the secret sauce?
Multi-layered and inexpensive production process. Traditional Bluray discs are three or four layers and have been around for 20 years (the archive disc reaches 6 layers by having 3 layers on both sides). Our first product will be 8 plies per side, which means we will have a 16 ply double sided disc. That’s ~2.7X the capacity of today’s Bluray without progress in areal density (more data per layer). The secret sauce is Material Science + production based on extruded film.
Many have tried the WORM route before but have had no effect (eg Pinnacle Micro etc). What makes your approach different and how did you manage to beat giants like Panasonic or Sony?
We believe that customer needs evolve. So much data that is archived is “Objects” and by definition Object data must be immutable. WORM is the best way to achieve data immutability.
Your technology allows the use of both cartridges and discs. What would be the use cases for both (maybe prosumer vs petabyte format archives)?
There are a number of library companies that offer both robotics and a robust SW layer that we work with. Cartridge vs disc carousel, vs disc tray will be chosen to serve the different market use cases and determined by the library vendors.
What kind of performance are we talking about? Access time, transfer speed, write speeds etc?
We are not disclosing any performance stats at this time, but would like to point out that SONY ODA stats are comparable. In particular, access time is determined by the library vendors and the ratio of drives to discs they market.
What is the purpose of horizon 3? 10TB drive and 100TB cartridges by 2030? Would the cost per TB remain the same or decrease?
10TB drives are the target, but are determined by the market. Folio’s manufacturing process allows us to control costs much better and we are committed to delivering the best value to our customers and our investors.
How much will the writers/readers cost and what improvement would you see on that side? Multiple read/write heads? Double sided?
It’s too early to discuss the pricing of our discs, except that we will be competitively positioned somewhere between today’s Blu Ray discs and LTO tape drives.
Why call the Folio Photonics company? What is the photonics aspect of it?
The name Folio Photonics came from our founder, Dr. Ken Singer. “Folio” refers to the layering of sheets of paper (in many cases in book format); therefore it is used to describe the layered film we manufacture. Next, “Photonics” is the natural science and application of generating, detecting and manipulating light (photons). By combining our innovations in materials science, manufacturing and optics, we can use our layered film in combination with photonics for this high-tech application.
Your site lists 16+ layers. Does this mean there may be more layers to come?
Yes, we are projecting to 32+ layers by 2030 in our technology roadmap. That said, our co-extrusion manufacturing process has been shown to be able to achieve significantly more than 32 layers. While we aim to make films with 32 layers, the disc will be double sided. This makes for 32 layers on each side. 167 GB x 64 Layers is more than 10.7 TB. For example, we project up to 10TB.
What areal density will the first generation disks use? What kind of areal density improvement do you expect to achieve further down the line?
We predict that our first generation drives today will be in the standard optical areal density/layer range. That is in the range of 25-33 GB/layer, depending on the media examined. Optical technologies have shown that it is possible to achieve more than 88-167 GB/layer by reducing the spot size, bringing markers closer together and improving read/write optics. We believe this will be achievable in the future as we progress on our technology roadmap.