Storage Gets Very Big and The Data Very Cold

Cold data anyone? With so much talk of managing 'hot' data, I felt this might at least catch your eye. As it happens I'm not talking about the activity level for a given piece of information, but I am actually talking about temperature....and, no, not the temperature in the data center aisles but the temperature at which some scientists have been storing data. Enough with the riddles - I was very taken by the recent news that IBM Research scientists at Almaden had demonstrated an ability to store a bit of information in as little as 12 atoms.

Well, so what, you might say....most people don't give much thought to how many atoms it takes to store data. After all, a bit isn't much is it? I need a few gigs for my latest Hollywood blockbuster! Well, think on this - a single bit can usually take around one million atoms to store! So suddenly 12 is looking awfully good. I'm optimistic in so many areas of life (from power to food to transport) that mankind will remain continually ingenious and figure ways around seemingly intractable problems. For decades you may have heard about the superparamagnetic effect...basically it's what prevents us packing data ever-more-densely because the magnetic field of each bit starts interacting and affecting the others around it. We've found innovative ways around it - vertical recording technology, for instance - but the essence of the problem has remained. As the absolute demand for storage has grown faster than the relative price decline of storage, so we've also concentrated on ways to make better use of the space we actually have: hence the popularity of things like thin provisioning, deduplication, etc., etc. But in historical terms we're only putting fingers in the dam, fighting a losing battle as valiantly as we can.

The news from IBM provides hope. Yes, it's 'only' research, but this early stage storage capability offers the potential to be literally orders of magnitude more dense than anything we have today. As to the cold I mentioned? Well, right now the antiferromagnetism used by the IBM boffins is being deployed at 1 degree Kelvin (minus 458 Fahrenheit, which is distinctly chilly!) and the data is only retained for hours. BUT, that's not the point....early cars only went at a few miles an hour and had someone with a red flag walk in front of them, early telephones were all hard-wired, and - hey - downloading a single photo over the early WWW just a few years ago was something you only did if you had plenty of time to spare. We'll figure this out, too.

You can read Mark's other blog entries at The Business of Storage.

Topics: Storage IT Infrastructure