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Mar 14 2016

Sony Introduces Optical Disc with 100-Year Warranty and Matching Library


As popular as they were (and in some areas still are), optical media always had a couple of issues in the storage context. One was capacity: CDs, DVDs and even Blu-rays can only hold limited amounts of data, which makes them awkward to use. The other is durability: all three disc types are susceptible to scratches and other types of damage, and they deteriorate over time, which makes them unfit for long-term data retention and archiving, e.g. of medical data or high school/university diplomas. Because of these problems, optical discs went through a long period of decline starting in the early noughties.

Fast forward to March 2016, and you can witness Sony Optical Archive Inc. – a subsidiary of the entertainment giant and long-time CD/DVD/BD manufacturer – trying to revive the entire OD concept. Their medium of choice is the so-called Archival Disc (AD), a Blu-ray successor developed by Sony and Panasonic that uses violet, 405nm laser beams to write data to three layers per side. Sony claims that first-generation ADs will hold up to 300 GB of information and last no less than 100 years while allowing for unlimited read frequencies and an unlimited number of drive loads. As a result, normal users with regular lifespans "are expected to never need to migrate data" again, the firm says. This does indeed sound wonderful, but needless to say, the AD won't run in your average OD drive, so you have to add a 'support system' in the form of the Everspan Library System, which basically works like a mammoth jukebox for the new discs.

According to Sony's press release, the library consists of three types of components – the Base Unit, which holds between 16 and 64 AD drives; the Robotic Unit, which delivers and removes discs to and from the drives; and up to 14 Expansion Units that store the media. These components are integrated into what Sony calls a "row," i.e. a fully functional physical library whose base configuration includes one of each unit and has room for 39,168 discs in 612 trays and whose total capacity adds up to 11.8 petabyte (PB). Standalone Expansion Units provide even more storage space, holding up to 43,520 discs or 13.1 PB of information. A full-fledged single row with 14 Expansion Units may therefore contain up to 181 PB. Moreover, users can combine four rows into one logical library, thus bringing the total capacity to a whopping 724 PB. Further according to Sony, the performance matches the capacity: average and peak read transfer rates per drive amount to 280 and 315 MB/s respectively, bringing the 'total read rates' to 18 GB/s per row and 72GB/s for a four-piece library, with media load times averaging between 60 and 90 seconds. For optical media, that's blazing fast – even if it's only about a quarter the speed of standard LTO-5 drives and tapes. Contrary to what one might expect, power consumption is actually bearable and runs up to 9 kW per 181-PB-row in active and 2kW in idle mode – not bad for such a Leviathan.

The Everspan Library integrates into pretty much any environment or application scenario via industry-standard interfaces; alternatively, users may set up their own OD or tape drive interfaces. The library software supports both file systems and S3 object storage; redundancy is provided through erasure coding.

While all these data do sound impressive, it remains to be seen whether this new combination of Archival Disc and matching library system will be a success. Sony for its part seems to be sure of it – and has issued a roadmap that says AD capacities could grow to 500 GB and 1 TB in future second and third generations, although it doesn't specify when. The Everspan Library System with ADs is currently undergoing stress tests and the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory. Information on pricing or potential GA dates has not been available so far.


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