Blu-Ray Gets a Second Shot at Relevancy in the Data Center, of All Places
Blu-Ray doesn’t have much of a future in movies. With the rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and so many other Internet video streaming services, optical disks are neither the easiest or cheapest way for people to buy or rent high-def video. But this dying technology may have an afterlife inside the computer data center.
In a wonderfully counterintuitive move, Facebook, one of the world’s largest online operations, recently started using Blu-Ray discs on the edge of its massive computing facilities. And now, Sony, which created Blu-Ray, hopes to push the same idea across the industry.
A few years ago, Facebook tossed Blu-Ray a lifeline when it built a robotic system that used these optical disks to preserve some of the oldest data on its network. When you upload photos, videos, and other stuff to Facebook, the company delivers it to friends and family through one the most advanced networks on Earth, juggling data across tens of thousands of hard disks and the super-fast memory subsystems of thousands of servers. But once that data gets old—once no one is looking at it—Facebook can save tons o’ money by storing it on Blu-Ray discs.
This is called cold storage. Simply put, robotic arms store and retrieve data from rack after rack of optical discs. These arms move the discs into central drives where data can be written, before returning them to the racks, and if this data is ever needed, the same arms can return the disks to a central drive for reading. The system is suited to old data Facebook might need for legal reasons, and it can provide an emergency backup for newer data.
Wait, They’re Still Using Tape?
Frank Frankovsky helped drive the creation of this cold storage system inside Facebook, then left the company to commercialize it. Even before unveiling a product, his company, Optical Archive Inc., had Sony’s attention. Last year, the Japanese tech giant acquired Frankovsky’s startup for an undisclosed sum. Now, Frankovsky and company have released their tech, which stores cold data on a new breed of optical disk that can hold as much as 300 gigabytes of information. That’s about six times more than you can fit onto a high-def movie disk.
Today, businesses typically store their old data on an antiquated technology called magnetic tape. Frankovsky sees optical discs as cheaper and more reliable, and few would disagree. “We’re finally bringing a product to market that will make tape obsolete technology,” he says. Tellingly, Sony offers a 100-year warranty on its discs.
Known as Everspan, Sony’s system can store up 181 petabytes of data—or 181 million gigabytes—using 64 optical drives. If you like, you can string together up four of these systems, spanning more than 724 petabytes. That gives businesses a way of inexpensively storing an awful lot of old data—a way pioneered and proven by Facebook, a company that, like Google, often serves as a bellwether for the future of information technology. But this system also uses a tremendous number of optical discs. That’s good news for Blu-Ray—and maybe for Sony, too.
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