October 6, 2022

Folio Photonics archive optical disk technology is real – Blocks and Files

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Optical archive disk startup Folio Photonics says it has proved its multi-layer technology works with data written and read in the R&D laboratory. Now it can move on and get a commercially viable drive developed.

Folio stores data in bleached or unbleached florescent dots in a multi-layer film that is created by extruding, splitting, folding and re-extruding a polymer film until it has 8 layers. Then a disk-shaped section is cut out and laminated onto a platter. Data is written and read using lasers focused at the right depth in the multi-layer recording medium. The production process is low-cost compared to tape and disks can hold from 500GB to 1TB of data with 2TB to 4TB using 32 layers in prospect. A multi-disk cartridge could hold even more.

Folio Photonics technology generations.

John Monroe, an analyst at Further Market Research, said: “Using next-generation materials, patented polymer extrusion, and film-based disc construction processes (distinct from mere optical layering), in concert with customized optical pickup units (OPUs), Folio Photonics appears poised to deliver a new optical technology that enables eight or 16 film layers per side per disc, as opposed to only three optical layers per side per disc [Blu-ray] for archival discs today, with a roadmap to add additional layers over time.”

The Folio Photonics disks are write-once, read many (WORM) immutable devices, can store data more cheaply than tape and provide random-access – in fact, faster data access than tape, making them suitable for so-called active archiving. Its archive storage is not vulnerable to electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks, and provides a media lifespan of 100 years.

Steven Santamaria, Folio Photonics CEO, said: “With these advantages, Folio Photonics is poised to reshape the trajectory of archive storage.”

Folio Photonics’ technology milestone.

Folio Photonics has proved that its technology works, albeit in lab conditions, and now needs to show that drives and libraries can be produced. This could be achieved by Folio Photonics developing its own drives, modeled on Blu-ray drives perhaps, or engaging with partners who could do this. They might either be a media+drive+device manufacturer, like Sony with its optical archive, or a media manufacturer, like Fujifilm which supplies LTO tape cartridges to customers of tape libraries made by suppliers such as Quantum and SpectraLogic. They in turn use tape drives made by IBM.

Folio says its extrusion-based manufacturing advantages drive room for significant channel/partner margin and profitability and position the company for sustainable growth and continued investment in the business. 

Santamaria said: “Folio’s next-generation storage media will radically reduce the upfront cost and TCO while making data archives active, cybersecure, and sustainable – an ideal combination for data center and hyperscale customers. We believe that it will disrupt and re-energize the multi-billion-dollar data storage industry with its breakthrough financial and sustainability upside.”

Comment

Our thinking is that Folio Photonics will look to partners to build drives and tape library chassis, ranging from auto-loaders to larger libraries. These partners will look at market projections for archive data growth and the prospects of eating into the tape archive market (with lower cost and faster access media) and the existing optical disk archive market (with lower-cost media). 

Folio Photonics disk.

If they are convinced of the potential then a 3-layer ecosystem will form, with Folio Photonics making the platters and, maybe, the cartridges, a drive-builder developing and making the drives, and a library maker developing auto-loading and robot-driven libraries. We can take it as given that existing archive software interfaces will be used; why re-invent that particular wheel?

We think that drive development is a bigger hurdle to get over than device chassis development.

The two disrupted markets will be archive tape and archive optical disk and existing suppliers in these markets will represent potential partnering opportunities for Folio Photonics. 

This is, potentially, a huge development milestone for archiving technology. Envisaging a random-access archive medium that is lower-cost than tape, about as dense in capacity and capacity-scaling terms, and longer-lasting, is hugely significant. We shouldn’t under-estimate the magnitude of Folio Photonics’ technology milestone but we should recognize that the next phase of development will be hard and take a year or more.



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