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Holostorage for the Desktop

What would you do with a one-terabyte computer disc? A Lucent Technologies spinoff is hoping to provide that kind of capacity using holographic technology.

You could store a whole lot of stuff on a one-terabyte computer disc-say, a million novels, 250,000 MP3 song files, or hundreds of full-length movies. A Lucent Technologies spinoff is hoping to bring you that kind of capacity using a long-talked-about technology: holographic storage, in which a laser records data in three dimensions on a polymer medium. The technology can store up to 300 times as much data as traditional optical drives of the same physical size, and the startup, Longmont, CO-based InPhase Technologies, says it will start selling the holographic drives next year.

InPhase’s initial product, with discs capable of storing 200 gigabytes and reading and writing data four times as fast as today’s DVDs-will be relatively expensive and marketed to companies and government agencies. Because they can read large chunks of data at high rates, the drives could be ideal for uses such as image searching and comparison. InPhase’s first target market will be organizations with large image-archiving needs, such as the mapmaking agency that supports the U.S. defense and intelligence communities.

But the company hopes holographic storage will eventually be available to consumers, and along with rival holographic-media startup Aprilis, a Polaroid spinoff in Maynard, MA, it’s licensing the technology to companies such as Sony and Sanyo, which should have products on the market within four years. In fact, says analyst Wolfgang Schlichting, a research manager at IDC, an information technology consultancy in Framingham, MA, it’s the work done by electronics manufacturers to create accurate and cheap lasers and sensors for CD players, digital cameras, and DVD drives that is making holographic disc drives affordable.

Schlichting thinks the technology is a promising successor to today’s magnetic and optical storage products but points out one big remaining limitation: the holographic medium-a photosensitive polymer that records and stores the data-isn’t yet rewritable. In the meantime, InPhase expects to market its own non-rewritable, 200-gigabyte holographic drives late next year. But a rewritable drive is just a couple of years away, the company says.

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