Data is being created at a truly unprecedented rate: the amount of digital data we have stored is currently doubling every two years and, with it being significantly harder to create storage media than data, it should come as no surprise to hear that it’s widely agreed that such growth is unsustainable.
Fortunately, manufacturers and academics noticed this problem several years ago and began developing a number of new technologies designed to scale-up the storage capacities of existing media as well as some that will, we hope, lead to some exciting new storage devices, too.
Here are five technological advancements that have already led to increased storage capacities, as well as a few that are currently in development:
1. Heated-assisted magnetic recording
Heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) is a technique that increases the amount of data that can be stored on a magnetic platter by heating it prior to the data being written on to it. By heating the platter for a very short period of time, it becomes significantly more receptive to magnetic fields, meaning that less space is required to store the data thus increasing storage densities.
Whilst this technique was developed over 30 years ago and manufacturer Seagate have claimed that it could lead to HDDs with capacities of 100TB in just over a decade, no drives using this technology are currently available for purchase. Seagate have claimed that they’re close, however, and as they use the same form factors as standard drives, HDDs using HAMR technology could prove to be a highly-practicable means of enhancing storage densities.
2. Shingled magnetic recording
Another data-writing technique that increases storage density, shingled-magnetic recording (SMR) allows tracks of data to overlap with one another slightly, just like roof shingles (hence the name).
Drives using SMR technology have been available to purchase since 2013 and, when combined with another means of increasing storage density – filling a drive’s container with helium –offer capacities of up to 14TBs.
3. Helium-filled drives
By filling a hard drive with helium and then hermetically sealing the container, you reduce the turbulence created within the drive when reading or writing data. As a result, you can include more platters and therefore store more data within drives that possess form factors no different to your everyday HDD.
This decrease in turbulence also means that thinner platters can be used in order to further increase storage density. The reduction in friction also means that the drives use less power. It’s also worth noting that the maximum capacity of helium-filled drives has doubled in less than five years (12TB today compared with 6TBs in 2013) and that many within the technology sector expect helium HDDs to offer even greater storage capacity in the near future.
4. The decentralised cloud
Yes, data centres have been offering online storage space for our data for several years now but it’s decentralised cloud storage that could prove to be a real game-changer.
Here, people with spare storage space can rent it out to other users in exchange for cash. By leveraging the vast amount of unused data storage present in domestic settings, we’d not only have a great deal of extra space for our files, but would reduce the environmental impact of storing them too.
Yes, there’ll need to be significant developments as far as Blockchain is concerned but, in our opinion, the prospect of all of our spare storage space being utilised as a means of solving this growing problem is a genuinely exciting and, if the security hurdles can be cleared, practicable solution.
As outlandish as it may seem, DNA has already been used to store data. What’s more, with it being estimated that 55,000GBs of information could be stored in just one cubic millimetre, it could be the answer to all of our data storage woes. That said, there are more than a few problems scientists will need to address before this becomes a feasible means of storing large amounts of data.
Firstly, using DNA to store data is incredibly expensive. In March 2017, researchers spent $7,000 synthesising just 2MBs of DNA data storage. Reading it also cost a further $2,000. Even if costs were less of an issue, though, the fact that retrieving data stored in DNA is an extremely slow process means that it would be unsuitable for anything other than archive storage at this point in time anyway.
As it could, potentially, store the contents of the average data centre in the space currently taken up by a 3.5 HDD, however, we’d like to think that DNA data storage is something that’ll, one day, be a reality.
Jay Williams is employed by Fields Data Recovery, a company specialising in hard drive data recovery, SSD repair and retrieving lost data from all types of failed storage media. He lives in Cardiff with his wife and two-year-old daughter.