Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holographic storage - science fiction or fact?

If you're anything like me (i.e. old), the mere mention of the word "holographic" is enough to immediately bring back memories of R2D2 relaying Princess Leia's cry for help to a bemused Luke Skywalker. If that doesn't mean anything to you, let's just say there was a time long ago (in a galaxy far, far away) when Star Wars films were actually pretty good.

Holographic technology has multiple applications, one of which is data storage. Although the use of light to read and write data is familiar from established storage mediums such as CDs and DVDs, holographic memory promises far greater storage in a smaller space coupled with faster access speeds.

How does it work, exactly? Here's what Wikipedia has to say:

Holographic data storage captures data using laser beams shining on photorefractive material. Creating holograms is achieved by means of two coherent beams of light split from one laser source, one being the reference beam and the other the signal beam. When both these beams interfere with one another, a resulting interference pattern is formed which encompasses the pattern both in amplitude and phase information of the two beams. When an appropriate photorefractive material is placed at the point of interference, the interference patterns are recorded inside the material. When the reference beam illuminates the material in the absence of the signal beam, the hologram causes the light to be diffracted in the same direction of the initial signal beam and all the information of the original signal beam is reconstructed.

Clever stuff. Of more interest to forensic examiners is the fact that holographic memory might be one solution to some of the data storage issues we talked about previously. On the other hand, it's a technology which has been discussed for decades and has yet to become a commercial reality. In addition, if it - or any other future storage option - ever does become a viable data storage solution for use in the workplace it will eventually become affordable to the consumer, thus increasing (yet further) the amount of data we need to recover and examine.

What do you think about forensic storage issues? Is the data mountain becoming too high to climb or will some new technology help us scale new heights? Comments welcome.

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