CDs can hold 640 MB of data. A standard DVD tops out at 4.7 GB. And Blu-ray discs hold up to 50 GB.

But a team of researchers have found a way to pack 500 terabytes onto a glass disc that’s the same physical size. That’s 10,000 more data than you can fit on a Blu-ray disc.

Researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK say they’ve developed a system that uses “fast and energy-efficient laser-writing” to etch “high-density nanostructures in silica glass” for long-term storage.

The team says the high information density is made possible thanks to a 5D (five-dimension) storage technique that uses two optical dimensions and three spatial dimensions. While this isn’t the first time someone has tried that approach, the researchers say previous attempts have been too slow at writing data for practical use.

The new method is faster… but that’s still a relative term. It would theoretically take about 60 days to write 500TB of data to a single glass disk using this method, and so far it’s only been demonstrated with about 5GB of data.

In other words, the goal isn’t necessarily to replace CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray drives and media for home use – the internet has largely replaced removable media for software installers and music and movies anyway. Instead, the team says their 5D storage solution could be used by libraries, museums, national archives, or other organizations looking for long-term solutions for storing massive amounts of data.

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  1. I think this has definite consumer potential. Obviously not as much as DVDs or CDs in their heyday, but definitely. A lot of people don’t like relying on the cloud, especially if they live in a place where the internet going out is not unheard of (even if it only happens once a year it can really screw you over if it’s the wrong time). And cloud services HAVE failed in the past (infrequently, but it happens).

    Now, for it to be viable for everyday consumers interested in this kind of tech I think there would be 4 pertinent factors:

    1) read speed. Writing speed is less important for many things you intend on having for long storage. Heck, even a game wouldn’t matter as much as long as it could be read quickly.

    2) cost (this one is self-explanatory

    3) the ability to write in multiple sessions. I remember when some drives wouldn’t recognize multi-session CDs or DVDs. Which meant if you wanted to burn one guaranteed to be readable everywhere you would have to fill it up in one go. While filling up 500TB is feasible (especially as many things keep increasing in quality and therefore size), doing so in one go would be difficult.

    4) reliability. How delicate is this glass? Even if it doesn’t break easily, how much would scratches affect its readability? Home-burned DVDs and CDs had a definitely shelf life (I’ve had and heard of many that just stopped working after X amount of time, though it obviously also depends on the quality). And of course, as riddick mentioned before me, the durability of the reading medium.

    That said, this tech makes me think of the data crystals form Star Trek TNG and DS9 =) and if it’s viable would love to have it in my home.

  2. I personally buy a new HD every 4 years and add it to the pool of other drives. I use the 3 copies rule including one off-site.
    The biggest problem with long-term storage is reliability/availability of the drive that reads the media. The media may last 100+ years, but the hardware/software of the drive that reads it might be obsolete or damaged after 10 years.

    1. This is so true. It’s one of the reasons why when watching sci-fi it always seems much more feasible that they can read paper books than they could read an old storage device.