Image Storage Gets Colder With Freeze-Rays

January 7, 2016 @ 12:50 PM
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2 min read

On Jan. 5 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the unlikely partners of Panasonic and Facebook announced a new kind of image storage: the freeze-ray disc, according to a report in PC World.

Freeze-Ray: Cold, Cold Storage

The freeze-ray name comes from the use of a Blu-ray Disc for so-called cold storage of data. Facebook had previously announced it was using Blu-ray Discs for the storage of large amounts of data that needed to be saved but were not routinely used, particularly for image storage purposes. According to PC World, Facebook’s Blu-ray system is 50 percent cheaper than the hard disk alternatives and 80 percent more energy efficient.

While all of those cost savings may be true, the technology still comes at a price. The speed of data retrieval is usually much slower for a cold-storage system than hard disks. Whether the increase in latency reduces utility depends on the specific use.

At the press conference announcing the system, Panasonic didn’t give many details about its plans, such as release dates or prices for public use of the technology. But it did make one thing clear: This could become the industry standard for image storage in the future.

Yasu Enokido, president of Panasonic’s B2B division, praised Blu-ray for its “longevity, immutability, backward compatibility, low power consumption and tolerance to environmental changes.” That immutability is critical for security. Once data is written to the disc, it should not change over time.

New Methods for Image Storage

Facebook’s first storage systems used 100 GB discs — the main type available at the time. Panasonic expects to deploy 300 GB discs later this year and is even working on 500 GB and 1 TB discs. Many discs can be used in a single system, which can give it petabytes of archival storage.

According to a Panasonic press release, the company’s major contribution was its high-density optical technology. It also provided optical discs, drives and related robotics, as well as library software to control the system in the data center.

Facebook, in turn, helped with efforts in designing, deploying, managing and servicing storage systems in data centers. In addition, Panasonic said Facebook provided extensive technical and real-world data center feedback during development. Both companies have been working on two generations of the freeze-ray solution.

Not Just for Facebook

Panasonic won’t have the market to itself for very long. SiliconANGLE reported that Sony recently bought Optical Archive, a Facebook spinoff, that’s working on similar technology. But Sony has even more motivation to succeed in this venture: It wants to make a compelling reason for the use of Blu-ray Discs that it also produces, which suffered greatly from the growth of streaming media.

Facebook said it will release its cold-storage designs through the Open Compute Project, which means that other manufacturers could build similar products or even improve on the initial design.

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Larry Loeb
Principal, PBC Enterprises

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE mag...
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