HVault announces holographic storage system with petabytes of capacity

HVault also has its eye on the consumer market

Start-up company hVault this week announced that it plans to begin shipping a holographic disc drive, rack-mountable autoloader and robotic library later this year, offering archival storage that lasts at least 50 years.

The company is using the intellectual property of InPhase Technologies, which is in bankruptcy protection, and said its success with holographic disc in the face of others' failure will come from addressing big data capacity requirements and not from selling one-off discs and drives. The company plans to address the needs of petabyte-sized archives.

Each hVault disc is expected to hold from 300GB to 500GB of capacity. The company's lowest-end disc autoloader will hold 15 discs for a total price tag of about $50,000. The company plans to ship its first products to beta customers later this year.

hVault equipment
An hVault disc cartridge, drive and autoloader.

HVault's robotic library system can have from one to eight drives. A base model starts with 240 disc slots and can be expanded to as many as 540 slots. Up to three library cabinets can be daisy-chained together.

"So in one box you can have petabytes of storage where anything in there is accessible in less than 10 seconds," said Bland McCartha, vice president of sales for hVault. "Our target market is active archive."

McCartha said hVault's library systems will enable companies to archive vast collections of analog video that require digitization as well as content that has already been digitized. The three biggest markets firs its product will be media and entertainment, medical imaging and the U.S. government, for storing data such as satellite imagery.

HVault is also considering a consumer version of the holographic storage device that would allow users to store more than a terabyte of data on a single platter, significantly more than Blu-ray Discs or DVDs, which offer storage for up to 50GB of data.

"We will be able to use that kind of thing," said Tom Coughlin, an analyst at data storage consulting firm Coughlin Associates. "That amount of content would be onerous to transport on any kind of online distribution system. It just won't have the speed."

HVault is entering a market with few, if any, competitors. Last year, GE's technology development division said it was pushing ahead with plans to distribute a 500GB holographic optical storage disc technology that it hoped to license to manufacturing partners. The GE discs offer the same recording speed as Blu-ray and 20 times the amount of storage space. GE first touted the technology in 2009.

GE did not return a request for comment on where that technology effort stands today.

In 2007, InPhase Technologies took aim at the magnetic tape drive market with the industry's first 300GB holographic optical disc. InPhase, which was spun off from Bell Laboratories, called its holographic product the Tapestry HDS-300R and planned to sell the platters for $100 to $125 each. InPhase had also planned a second-generation 800GB rewritable optical disc with data transfer rates of about 80MB/sec., with plans to expand disc capacity to 1.6TB by 2010.

In five rounds of venture capitalist funding, InPhase raised $94 million. Then the company vanished. Many speculate that InPhase was too busy "tinkering with its technology" and didn't focus enough on execution. Last year, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Venture capital firm Signal Lake acquired a majority stake in InPhase and appointed its vice president of sales, Art Rancis, as the new CEO.

McCartha said hVault is in negotiations with InPhase to acquire the patents for its holographic technology. He said 10 years of technology development by others will not go to waste and hVault will focus on getting out its product.

Unlike DVD or Blu-ray Disc, holographic disc storage does not use a laser to burn a single bit of data into a flat platter.

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