Data Reduction Breakthrough Shrinks Storage Requirements in Half

By: Jeff Bertolucci| - Leave a comment


To glean insights from their growing stockpiles of data, organizations must first find efficient, affordable ways to store digital information. One promising solution to this challenge is data reduction.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) have devised a solution that replaces the traditional two-symbol binary code with a four-symbol, chemistry-based approach that stores data in half the space required by current methods.

Beyond Ones and Zeros

Today’s digital devices typically use a binary code in which the numerals zero and one represent information. For many years, engineers have developed clever ways to boost storage density by pushing data closer together, all the while maintaining the two-symbol binary framework.

For instance, a Blu-ray disc is made with a blue laser, which is more focused than the red laser used to make a compact disc. The blue laser increases data density by shrinking the size of symbols and the space between them, explains CWRU.

Researchers took a more radical approach: Ditch two-symbol binary code altogether. They found a way to use polymer films containing two dyes to optically store data in a quaternary four-symbol code. The resulting system potentially cuts storage requirements in half.

The four symbols are three colors fluorescent green, ultramarine and cyan and the absence of color. These symbols are created when dyes contained in a common polymer are exposed to heat, ultraviolet light or both, the researchers explain.

Durable Code

To test their quaternary storage system, researchers loaded a small amount of the two-dye molecules into a polymer film called polymethyl methacrylate. They wrote code by laying metal or wood templates over the film and then applied heat and ultraviolet light.

Each circular symbol in the template was 300 micrometers across, with a 200-micrometer distance separating each symbol. The sample code remained legible “even after the film had been rolled, bent, written on with permanent marker, submerged in boiling water and half the surface had been rubbed away with sandpaper,” CWRU explained.

Moving Forward

It’s unclear when or if CWRU’s quaternary system will leave the laboratory for the real world. One significant hurdle is to implement the solutions, computer programs would need to be written in quaternary code. The researchers note that this approach would be easy with their system. The CWRU team is currently exploring the use of specialized lasers to shrink the spatial resolution to further increase data density.

“We’re using chemistry instead of engineering to address data storage, but it’s really complementary to what engineers are doing,” says Emily Pentzer, assistant professor of chemistry at CWRU.

Shrinkage Is Good

Unsurprisingly, the CWRU effort is just one of many data reduction solutions in the works. At the University of Southampton in the U.K., scientists have created a five-dimensional storage method that encodes data in tiny nanostructures in glass, The Verge reports. The approach enables a standard-sized disc to store 360 terabytes of data with an astoundingly long lifespan of up to 13.8 billion years.

The need for data reduction solutions will continue to rise in the coming decade, as video storage needs grow in the enterprise and Internet of Things devices take hold on a global scale. According to a recent CompTIA study, there could be as many as 50 billion connected devices by 2020, up from 500 million in 2000.

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About The Author

Jeff Bertolucci

News Writer

Jeff Bertolucci is a Los Angeles-based journalist specializing in technology, digital media, and education. His work has appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance, InformationWeek, PCWorld, Macworld, The Saturday Evening Post, The Los Angeles Times and many other publications.