IBM Breakthrough Exponentially Expands Data Storage

| 13 Jan 2012 18:45

New method of storage will allow 100 terabytes on a disc that now holds 1 TB.

For years, the limiting factor of increasing computational power has been how much electronic circuitry manufacturers can cram onto a single chip. Moore's Law describes a trend that's held true since 1971 in which CPUs have essentially doubled in capacity every 18 months, and data storage such as hard disks have generally kept up the same gradual growth - but that trend is about to be blown sky high. Computer scientists working for IBM have discovered a way for a comparatively small number of iron atoms on a disk - 12 atoms as opposed to 1 million - to store a single bit of data. If manufacturing using this method proves feasible, we could soon see hard drives that can store 100 to 150 times more data in the same size drive that's in the computer you're using to read this news post.

"Looking at this conservatively ... instead of 1TB on a device you'd have 100TB to 150TB. Instead of being able to store all your songs on a drive, you'd be able to have all your videos on the device," said Andreas Heinrich, the lead scientist on the project.

The breakthrough came from using a different technique to "record" data on a disk. Instead of iron atoms with opposite magnetic polarization put together - with magnetic repulsion requiring space between them - Heinrich and his team used a scanning tunneling microscope doohickey to assemble a small number of atoms with the same magnetic polarization that could be tightly packed.

"Moore's Law is basically the drive of the industry to shrink components down little by little and then solve the engineering challenges that go along with that but keeping the basic concepts the same. The basic concepts of magnetic data storage or even transistors haven't really changed over the past 20 years," he said. "The ultimate end of Moore's Law is a single atom. That's where we come in."

Heinrich admits that mass-production using this technique is still at least 5 to 10 years away. "Using iron atoms on a copper nitrite surface is probably far from being a real technology. You don't want to build this with the tool we're using, which is a research tool," he said. "You want to build this cheaply for a mass environment, and that's a huge engineering challenge."

But for those of us who have gotten used to toting around our entire music collection in a device the size of a credit card, this breakthrough will allow us to do the same with an library of Blu-Rays and DVDs, and that's pretty exciting. I have no idea why you'd want to watch movies on a credit card, but that isn't the point ...

Source: Computer World

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