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Digital Storage Enters Stone Age

8/10/2011 12:04:48 PM Eastern
New York - Millenniata, a Utah-based optical media storage company, is reviving the use of stone as a data-storage medium.

The technology developed by Millenniata allows for the creation of what it claimed is the permanent archiving of data on an optical disc.

No, Millenniata is not selling tiny hammers, chisels and tablets that Fred Flintstone or Barney Rubble could use, but it has developed a new layering technique that replaces the standard dye with a man-made, stone-like substance that allows a laser to literally etch data onto what it is calling an M-Disc.

Scott Shumway, Millenniata's CEO, said the technique was developed over the past three years, and he claimed a 1,000-year lifespan for the data and discs.

"We have engineered out the dye. That is the reason why there is degradation now. The write layer is organic, so it will eventually return to its original organic state, losing the data," he said, adding that the discs have been tested for longevity by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Helping add additional strength is a stronger glue bond between the plastic and the writable surface. Currently, the plastic disc has trouble staying attached to the dye layer because it is not smooth; however, the stone is much smoother, helping to create a stronger bond.

The 4x M-Disc is burned to the DVD standard and is expected to cost less than $3 per disc, Shumway said. It will also be offered in 10- and 15-packs for $13.89 and $25.59, respectively.

Millenniata is only developing and manufacturing the discs; it has partnered with Hitachi-LG Data Storage to make the optical drives. The first drives and discs will become available on Sept. 1 through Millenniata's online store, with retail shipments beginning in October. These will sell under the Hitachi-LG brand at the company's usual retail partners.

The discs, which are not rewritable, can be read on any DVD drive, and the drive is a fully functioning Super Multi Blu-ray drive that can read and write all available optical media, Ted Ha, Hitachi-LG's senior manager, told TWICE. A Blu-ray version of the M-Disc and burner is under development.

The drives are software and firmware upgraded versions of a current product, Ha said. The software upgrade increases the laser's power, enabling it to cut the stone layer.

The changes to the drive are expected to add only a slight cost to the drives, Ha said.

The partners will offer the technology for license to other manufacturers.

The companies will first test the new format at retail, although they believe it will gain a great deal of interest from government, military and corporate customers that need long-term data storage.

Bundling promotions for the drives and discs will begin in October, and in-box promotions for extra blank discs will be included.

Shumway acknowledged the fact that educating consumers at retail will be a challenge, but his company will start sales associate training on Aug.15. The most difficult aspect will be informing the average user that their current optical storage is not long-term, but will degrade over time. DVDs are typically rated as having a 10-year lifespan, but most people believe it is much longer, he said. "Even discs labeled ‘archival' may only last 30 years," Shumway said.

The genesis for the M-Disc came three years ago when a professor at Brigham Young University led a Boy Scout troop on an outing to an ancient Native American village in Utah. While looking at the buildings it struck him that the images etched into the stone had lasted 1,500 years and were still readable, yet all of modern societies' information was stored on discs with a much lower life span.

He set out to see if the ancient methodology could be adapted for modern use. He approached a BYU chemistry professor, who believed a thin, stone-like material could be created for use on optical discs. With this information in hand, they brought it to computer expert and began to develop the idea.

Shumway explained, "With Cloud computing, the industry has mastered convenience. We have mastered read/write speeds, but what is missing from the market is permanence. That's what we bring."

Shumway said he came on board first as an investor and took the position of CEO about one year ago.
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