While cloud storage remains the most visible part of consumer storage in the entire technology ecosystem, the part that requires the most storage capacity remains hidden. Archiving and long-term storage of data by hyperscalers and service providers has gained momentum over the past decade as more and more of our lives – especially with a COVID lock – have been done online.
Optical storage (think DVD and Blu-ray) has remained in the shadows as tapes, exotic media (such as silica or DNA) and hard drives compete to dominate the hot field of archiving. However, one newcomer, Folio Photonicsaims to deliver goods faster than everyone else, using a new approach to existing optical technology.
The start-up company, spun off from the Center for Layered Polymeric Systems, funded by the National Science Foundation Center for Science and Technology, is a newcomer to a crowded marketplace, and we sat down (practically) with its CEO Steve Santamaria to discuss the future of this exciting technology.
I can trace the first glimmer of a 1TB optical disc in 2007. Why did it take me so long to get a profitable product?
It turns out that commercial production of 1 TB drives using the traditional spin-coating method is difficult to accomplish while maintaining efficiency and margins. The Folio breakthrough applies to both the coextruded film production process and the advanced material science. The manufacturing process allows for commercial scale and affordable cost. This allows Folio to provide high optical capacity at a fraction of the typical cost of storing optical media.
Your press release mentions $ 5 / TB, while your site mentions $ 3 / TB, which is the right one?
Both are right. It will be a market / business decision. Folio aims to have the lowest cost / TB of any current storage media when we ship the first product, but we recognize that data archive storage is a commodity and appropriately manage our price and action plan to provide the best value to our customers and our investors.
How is your optical disc different from traditional blu-ray? What’s the secret sauce?
Multi-layered and cheap production process. Traditional Bluray discs are three or four tiers and have been in existence for 20 years (archival disc achieves 6 tiers thanks to 3 tiers on both sides). Our first product will have 8 layers per side which means we will have a 16 layer double sided board. That’s ~ 2.7x the capacity of the current Bluray with no progress in area density (more data per layer). The secret sauce is Material Science + production based on extruded foil.
Lots of people have tried the WORM tour before, but it had no effect (eg Pinnacle Micro etc). What distinguishes your approach and how did you manage to defeat giants like Panasonic or Sony?
We believe that customer needs evolve. So much of the archived data is “objects” and by definition, object data must be immutable. WORM is the best way to achieve data consistency.
Your technology allows you to use both cartridges and disks. What would be the use cases of both (perhaps prosumer archives or petabyte archives)?
There are many library companies that offer robotics as well as a solid layer of software that we work with. Cartridge vs. Disk carousel, vs disk tray will be selected to support different use cases in the market and will be determined by library vendors.
What spectacle are we talking about? Access time, transfer speed, write speed etc.?
We are not disclosing performance data at the moment, but are happy to point out that SONY ODA’s data is comparable. In particular, the access time will be determined by library vendors and the ratio of disks to disks commercialized by them.
What is the purpose of horizon 3? 10TB Drive and 100TB Cartridges by 2030? Will the cost per TB stay the same or will it decrease?
10 TB drives are the target, but the market will decide that. Folio’s manufacturing process allows us to have much greater cost control and we are committed to providing our clients and investors with the best value.
How much will writers / readers cost and what kind of improvements will you notice on this side? Multiple read / write heads? Double-sided?
It’s still too early to discuss the pricing of our drives, except that we’ll have a competitive position somewhere between today’s Blu Ray drives and LTO tape drives.
Why call Folio Photonics? What is the aspect of photonics in that?
Folio Photonics is named after our founder, Dr. Ken Singer. “Folio” refers to layered sheets of paper (in many cases in book format); hence it is used to describe the laminated film we produce. Then, “photonics” is physics and the application of light generation (photons), detection and manipulation. By combining our innovations in materials science, production and optics, we are able to use our layered layer in combination with photonics for this high-tech application.
Your website mentions over 16 layers. Does this mean more layers are likely to emerge?
Yes, we foresee more than 32 layers in our 2030 technology roadmap. With this in mind, our co-extrusion manufacturing process has demonstrated the ability to achieve well over 32 layers. While our goal is to create 32-layer films, the disc will be double-sided. This will allow 32 layers on each side. 167GB x 64 tiers is over 10.7TB. Thus, we design up to 10 TB.
What surface density will first generation disks use? What kind of improvement in surface density do you expect to achieve next?
We anticipate that our first generation drives will fall within the standard optical surface / tier density range today. Which is in the range of 25-33 GB / layer depending on the tested medium. Optical technologies have demonstrated the ability to achieve over 88-167 GB per layer by reducing the spot size, bringing the markers closer together, and advanced read / write optics. We believe it will be achievable in the future as our technology roadmap progresses.