For now cloud storage remains the most visible part of consumer storage in the entire technology ecosystem, the part that requires the most capacity remains hidden. Archiving and long-term data storage with hyperscalers and service providers has gained momentum over the past decade as more of our lives – especially during the COVID lockdown – have been online.
Optical storage (such as DVD and Blu-ray) has been overshadowed as tape, exotic media (such as silicon dioxide or DNA) and hard drives compete for supremacy in the highly contested field of archiving. However, one newcomer Foliophotonicsaims to deliver goods faster than anyone else by reinventing existing optical technology.
The start-up company, which spun out of the Center for Multilayer Polymer Systems, a National Science Foundation-funded science and technology center, is an upstart in a crowded market, and we sat down (virtually) with its CEO, Steve Santamaria, to discuss the future of this exciting technology .
I can trace the first glimpse of a 1TB optical drive back to 2007. Why did it take so long to get a commercially viable product?
Commercial production of 1 TB drives using the traditional coating method was found to be difficult to achieve while maintaining yields and margins. Folio’s breakthrough is due to both the co-extruded film manufacturing process and advanced materials science. The production process allows commercial scale and affordable cost. This allows Folio to provide high optical capacity at a fraction of the cost of conventional optical storage.
Your press release mentions $5 per TV and your website says $3 per TV. Which one is correct?
Both are right. It will be a market/business decision. When we deliver the first product, Folio intends to have the lowest price per TV of any media today, but we understand that archival data storage is a commodity and will manage our price and plan accordingly to offer our customers and our investors.
How is your optical disc different from a traditional Blu-ray disc? What is the secret of the sauce?
Multi-layered and inexpensive production process. Traditional Bluray discs consist of three or four layers and have been around for 20 years (an Archival disc goes up to 6 layers, with 3 layers on both sides). Our first product will have 8 layers on each side, meaning we will have a 16-layer double-sided disc. This is about 2.7 times the capacity of current Bluray without increasing areal density (more data per layer). The secret sauce is materials science + production based on extruded film.
Many of you have tried the WORM route before but failed to make any headway (like 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 are evolving. Much of the 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 you to use both cartridges and discs. What would be the use cases for either of these (perhaps for professional users vs petabyte archives)?
There are a number of library companies that offer robotics as well as robust software that we work with. Cartridge vs. disc carousel vs. disc tray will be chosen to serve different market use cases and specified by library vendors.
What play is it about? Access time, transfer speed, write speed, etc.?
We do not disclose performance figures at this time, but are happy to point to the SONY ODA figures as a benchmark. Access times, in particular, will be determined by library vendors and the drive-to-disk ratios they commercialize.
What is the purpose of Horizon 3? 10TB disk and 100TB cartridges by 2030? Will the price of TV remain the same or will it decrease?
The goal is 10TB drives, but that will be determined by the market. Folio’s manufacturing process gives us much more control over costs and we are committed to delivering the best value for our customers and investors.
How much will the authors/readers cost and what improvement do you see from that side? Multiple read/write heads? Bilateral?
It is too early to discuss pricing for our drives, except that we will be competing somewhere between modern Blu-ray drives and LTO tape drives.
Why is the company called Folio Photonics? What is the photonics aspect of this?
The name Folio Photonics comes from our founder, Dr. Ken Singer. “Folio” refers to a stack of sheets of paper (in many cases book format); therefore, it is used to describe the multi-layer film we produce. Further, “Photonics” is the physical science and application of light (photon) generation, detection and manipulation. By combining our innovations in materials science, manufacturing and optics, we can use our multilayer film in combination with photonics for this high-tech application.
Your site mentions 16+ layers. Does this mean there may be more layers?
Yes, we predict 32+ layers in our technology roadmap by 2030. That being said, our co-extrusion manufacturing process has demonstrated the ability to achieve well over 32 layers. Although we aim to create 32-layer films, the disc will be double-sided. This will make 32 layers on each side. 167GB x 64 layers is over 10.7TB. In this way we project up to 10 TB.
What areal density will the first generation drives use? What improvement in area density do you expect to achieve going forward?
We predict that our first generation discs today will be in the standard optical area/layer range. Which is in the range of 25-33GB/tier depending on the media tested. Optical technologies have shown the ability to achieve over 88-167GB/layer by reducing the spot size, bringing the marks closer together, and improving the read/write optics. We believe this will be achievable in the future as we progress through our technology roadmap.