Cerabyte Aims to Revolutionize Data Storage With Nanodots on Ceramic
Cerebyte uses laser-etched ceramic on glass to produce archival data storage systems rivaling the longevity of ancient cuneiform tablets.
Long-term cold data storage does not yet have a fully satisfactory medium for archiving data. Magnetic and optical systems that have the necessary speed, density, and cost don’t have the required durability. Technologies that are rugged and durable enough are either not dense enough, too slow, or too expensive.
Data storage startup Cerabyte has announced a new long-term archival storage medium designed to resolve all of those issues with a material that is high capacity, fast, inexpensive, and will last hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Ceramic coating on glass is durable, rugged, and near-unlimited in lifespan.
The Cerabyte material starts with a glass carrier substrate, either a small glass square or a flexible glass tape. The glass has layers of ceramic, 50 to 100 atoms thick, deposited on the substrate, and data is etched into the ceramic with femtosecond laser pulses. It’s formatted as arrays of microdots that look visually similar to the common QR code. Burned holes represent a binary zero, and the absence of a burned hole represents a 1. It can be double-sided for extra capacity and is read/write-only.
Replacing Conventional Media
Cold storage refers to the storage of data that is not needed on a regular basis. This includes data such as compliance records, historical archives, and media files. The most secure cold storage facilities archive data onto magnetic tape and store it in offline racks in carefully climate-controlled installations.
Magnetic media is subject to loss of magnetic charge. Tape can also become brittle, and plastics in optical discs can degrade. While the highest quality storage systems in environmentally controlled spaces can last a few decades, historical and cultural records need a much longer life than that.
Inspired by Ancient History
Cerabyte has taken inspiration from clay tablets thousands of years old. The story of Gilgamesh is inscribed on a 3,800-year-old tablet. Even older is a 5,000-year-old Mesopotamian beer recipe. But Cerabyte’s inspiration steps even further back to one of the oldest human-made artifacts: a 25,000-year-old ceramic Venus sculpture that still has detectible fingerprints—an effective microstructure.
Comparing long-term archival data storage past, present, and future.
Cerabyte has also looked to the stars. A 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite has given clues to the key to ultimate longevity. Upon the meteor's atmospheric entry, a vapor of metal nitride (a natural ceramic) coated the meteorite, making it virtually impervious to any adverse environmental condition up to 1,200°C. The Cerabyte story pays great homage to history while simultaneously looking to the future; the company aims to create a storage medium that will preserve humanity’s most valuable data in near perpetuity to add to that historical record.
Fast, High Capacity, and Rugged
At two megabits per laser shot, Cerabyte's technology is reported to be 50x faster than an optical disk. The thinner material also allows a 50x increase in data density over conventional media. Durability is more difficult to put in numerical terms, but since the inorganic ceramic material is situated on a flexible glass substrate, it is highly resistant to most of the vulnerabilities normally associated with archival cold storage. Cerabyte’s ceramic nanolayers are temperature safe from -273°C (-460°F) to 300°C (570°F), are not at risk from corrosive or acidic atmospheres, and are EMP safe.
Cerabyte expects data rates to be in the gigabytes per second (GB/s) range in initial versions, with terabytes per second (TB/s) in the following decade. The company also projects costs to be 75% lower than conventional cold storage systems.
Cerabyte's Long-Term Roadmap
Cerabyte projects a decades-long roadmap showing the transition from visible light lasers with one (or more)-GB/s-transfer speed to particle beams with terabytes-per-second speed. Its initial product, expected in 2024, will use cartridges with multiple glass slides. Later, the company will introduce flexible glass tape with even greater capacity.
At initial release, the cartridges are purported to have a 10 PB (petabyte) capacity—100 PB when bit sizes (the burned pit in the ceramic) decrease from 100 nm to 3 nm. Once particle beam systems are available in the next decade, the material will have a potential storage density of 1 TB or greater per millimeter squared, which exceeds all other mediums by an order of magnitude.
All images used courtesy of Cerabyte.