GE Talks Up Hologram Storage, Claims 500GB Breakthrough

When the first consumer CD recordable (CD-R) drives began to hit the market, the standard was hailed as a viable backup method for anyone who wanted a secure data repository without paying for a tape drive, risking sensitive information to the vagaries of fortune (aka, floppies), or paying top dollar for a second HDD. In the years between, optical media has utterly failed to keep pace with traditional HDDs or solid-state devices. Blu-ray recordables top out at 25GB, or ~40x more storage than CD-R's, while hard drives have jumped from 3-6GB all the way past the 1TB range.

GE thinks it has an alternative to Blu-ray that will offer 20x as much storage (500GB) and put optical drives back within reasonable storage capacity of the traditional hard drives they might be used to back up. The company has developed a holographic storage technology it hopes to license to various third-parties. The company writes:
GE’s micro-holographic disc will differ from forerunners in that it will embed data directly onto virtual layers within plastic, stacking 20 blue-laser readable layers one atop the other to realize 500GB capacity. Ultimately, a cross-functional team comprised of researchers from the GRC’s Applied Optics and Functional Materials labs is working toward micro-holographic discs that can store 1,000 GB, or 1 terabyte, of data. That’s enough capacity to store all the X-ray films of a large hospital on a single disc.

We've been waiting for these drives since Grandpa started driving a tyrannosaur

In theory, holographic storage offers immense capacity (changing the angle of either the laser or the disc can add additional storage, is more resistant to scratching, and lasts longer than other forms of media. Rival holographic technology developer InPhase has been talking smack and not-releasing products for years. Three years ago, the company told us that it would definitely, unquestionably, absolutely be launching units by the end of the year. The company may well have shipped some test rigs and prototypes, but its much-vaunted Tapestry product series remains vaporware.

GE has already developed the media and is looking to license the technology rather than self-develop it. Whether or not the standard will succeed in the long term is difficult to predict. CD-R's and DVD-R's continue to sell well in part because they fill a 'big enough' niche and are cheap enough to throw away, reburn, or loan to someone else. We suspect the latter reason explains why USB keys haven't largely replaced disc-based media--CD's and DVDs are less expensive.

Holographic disc technology undoubtedly has uses, but it'll have to elbow in next to Blu-ray on the one hand and USB keys + cloud storage on the other. Given this, we're not sure it'll ever catch beyond niche status.