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Storage of Data: What will replace hard drives and SSD?



Less and fewer games fit into your favorite console, and your smartphone is running out of space for 4K video... Even data centers began to occupy huge areas to accommodate a huge amount of data. In the near future, classic media will no longer cope with the avalanche of content, and there will be only hoping for another technological breakthrough. But what exactly should we expect?

what will replace hard drives and SSD

From analog to digital: storage of data before and today

To store information and, as a consequence, to transfer knowledge to descendants, mankind began hundreds of thousands of years ago. First, there were drawings on the rocks, then clay tablets, papyrus, and parchment, paper and canvas — until, finally, in the middle of the twentieth century, mankind has not entered the digital age. From that moment on, the amount of accumulated information began to grow exponentially.


It took mankind 300 thousand years to create the first 12 exabytes of information in 2000, but in the second 12 exabytes gone only a couple of years

At first, computers could not store information but only processed what was entered into them by means of perforated tapes or cardboard cards. The first truly digital media disk was the IBM 350, introduced in 1956. It was a Cabinet about one and a half by two meters in size, in which there were 50 magnetic disks. The capacity of the IBM 350 was 3.75 MB. Today it is possible to record only one mp3-track with average bitrate. Nevertheless, it was a breakthrough, because such a disk replaced almost 8000 punch cards of IBM standard.

IBM 350

First hard drive — IBM 350

The only serious discovery from that moment can be called except that the creation of solid-state drives in the 1980s. And even then, they were revolutionary only in the speed of reading and writing. SSD capacity is comparable to classic magnetic disks, HDD, whereas the cost is higher. You can read about the validity and intricacies of the transition from HDD to SSD in our article.

Meanwhile, the need for more capacious, energy-efficient and ideally cheap media is becoming more apparent every day. In 2017, total Internet traffic exceeded 1,000 exabytes or a billion terabytes. If you write this information on 650 MB CDs and stack them, the height of the information is four times the distance to the moon.


If you record all Internet traffic for 2017 on CD, the stack of disks will be four times greater than the distance to the moon.

We are already actively watching the 4K video, and in the foreseeable future, we will move to 8K, enjoy movies, long streams and live broadcasts. According to the Statista service, in 2021 the total amount of data stored in data centers will be close to 2500 exabytes.

Data volume in data centers in the world from 2016 to 2021 (exabytes)

Data volume in data centers in the world from 2016 to 2021 (exabytes)

As you can see in the diagram above, disk arrays in data centers occupy huge areas and consume large amounts of electricity. Now the largest Chinese data center occupies a million square meters. Soon the pile of giant data centers will cease to be effective and cost-effective. Modern Winchester based on electro-mechanical principles is morally and physically obsolete. The industry will physically require a much greater breakthrough than the transition to solid-state drives. So where can we expect?

Immediate prospect

Magnetic memory with multi-bit cells:

One of the most promising technologies of the near future is magnetic memory. Each cell is capable of storing more than one bit of information. All modern disks are based on the principle of the presence/absence of an electric signal in the cell. That is, the bit has two States-1 or 0.  In 2016, Israeli and American physicists developed a memory cell in the form of three magnetized ellipses, which can be in six States.

Magnetic memory with multi-bit cells

Such a cell can store three bits of information instead of one, as in classic drives. At the same time, scientists claim that it will not be necessary to radically change the existing architecture of magnetic memory. Thus, ideally, the storage capacity can be tripled while maintaining the amount of energy consumed and the physical size of the media. 3 TB in the smartphone-well, this should be enough for everything! No? Then...

Ferroelectrics aka FRAM:

In this case, scientists are developing a type of memory that can accommodate not three, but a hundred times more information. As a" minor " bonus — much longer life of the drive and less than traditional drives power consumption.

Ferroelectrics are based on a crystal lattice with an atom inside each cell. The atom can be polarized in one of two positions under the point influence of a magnetic field regardless of the environment. Obviously, this is equivalent to one bit of information. Moreover, the state of the cell is preserved even without a magnetic field. That is, the ferroelectric memory is non-volatile, which in consumer electronics will significantly save battery power.

Ferroelectrics aka FRAM

One of the main problems is that when reading information from such drives, it must be overwritten. Somewhat smoothes the situation the fact that the process of overwriting one bit takes about a nanosecond. Accordingly, the speed of reading / writing ferroelectric memory is several times higher than that of the most modern flash memory. However, until the problem is solved, the mass distribution of ferroelectric hard drives is questionable.

Holographic or volumetric optical memory:

Optical discs like CD, DVD, Blu-Ray will soon be called Antiques. But, according to scientists, the technology of such drives has not yet exhausted itself — this is perhaps the most promising method of recording and storing information. According to different versions, comparable in size to our usual "compact" disk can hold from 1 to 10 TB and store them for hundreds of years.


The entire collection of games with your console, you can now fit on a holographic optical disc.

The essence of the technology is that instead of a direct constant impact of the laser on the surface of the disk, a beam with variable intensity and direction (polarization) is used. The optical carrier itself has up to hundreds of transparent layers (which provides the "volume" of the technology). And, depending on the frequency of the radiation and the polarization of the beam, one unit of volume can be used to record different information. In this case, reading and writing are not made bitwise, and the whole "pages", that is, the speed is much higher than in the usual drives.

Holographic or volumetric optical memory

Distant prospect on the verge of fantasy

Atomic memory:

Recording 1 bit of information in a standard HDD requires approximately 100,000 atoms on a magnetic disk. But this, according to experts from IBM, is a too wasteful use of space. Engineers set out to record 1 bit of information per atom. In 2017, scientists managed to create the world's smallest magnet, which allowed to rigidly polarize a single atom, writing and reading from it 1 bit of information.

Atomic memory

If you can put the process "on stream", it is theoretically possible to create a tiny drive weighing only 1 gram, which will fit 456 exabytes of data.


Atomic drive, weighing 2 grams can be stored for the entire Internet in 2017, but the fit is not even a smartphone - in the smartwatch.

However, while the technology is barely worked out even in the laboratory. Besides, it requires a tunneling microscope, which will fit neither in mobile nor in PC gaming or in the apartment. And this is not the only problem that will have to be solved. Engineers also need to develop controllers that can write and read data at the atomic level, not to mention processors that have enough performance to process such amounts of information.

DNA as a hard drive:

No, it's not about to enter information into the DNA of a living person — it is unlikely that technology will help to prepare for all exams at once, learn kung fu and learn the secrets of the universe. Talking about synthetic DNA, where information is encoded not wildlife, but a human artificially.

The point is simple: binary machine language is translated into" DNA format", that is encoded in four bases, which are assembled in pairs in a well-known double helix. When information needs to be read, DNA is sequenced, which is deciphered.

DNA as a hard drive

DNA synthesis and sequencing today are standard and relatively inexpensive procedures that underlie, for example, genetic analysis. Artificial coding and decoding of information in DNA is also a fait accompli. In 2016, scientists were able to write in 1 gram of DNA 200 MB of information — clip group OK Go. And last year the musical group Massive Attack in this format released the album Mezzanine.

However, in comparison with the theoretical potential of this technology, a music album, and a clip are trifles. According to scientists, one gram of the synthesized DNA can theoretically fit up to 1000 exabytes, which is 2/3 of the total content of the data centers of the planet in 2018. But even this is not the main advantage of the technology. As we know from the experience of modern genetics, the information in DNA is stored even in a vacuum, even under the bed in the dust for hundreds of thousands of years.


DNA is an indestructible media that can survive mankind.


The need for new types of information storage is becoming more urgent. Given the rate of growth of information produced by mankind, this problem will have to be solved very soon. But how to replace traditional media? It is unclear: all at one stage or another of the experiments. Although success is already there. And maybe soon we will stop thinking how much memory is in the smartphone, and terabytes and petabytes will be measured in grams.


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