Researchers in the Netherlands recently developed a new storage technology that uses chlorine atoms on a tiny metal surface to create rewritable storage that is massively scalable. According to the original article on the research, published in Nature, it could eventually be scaled to hold 10 terabytes (TB) of data if the surface was expanded to 1 centimeter (cm).

The team hails from the Delft University of Technology (DUT), one of the oldest Dutch technological universities located in Delft, Netherlands. Using their approach, the team initially developed a 1 kilobyte (KB) rewritable data-storage device.

“It’s by far the largest assembly on an atomic scale that’s ever been created, and it outperforms state-of-the-art hard disk drives by orders of magnitude in data capacity,” lead author Sander Otte, said in Nature.

The technology is dependent on the ability to quickly rearrange in square grids that sit next to each other as terraces. Each grid represents a single byte, and it contains slots that the atoms can be moved around in to represent either a one or a zero, thereby encoding the information. The atoms are moved between slots using a scanning tunnelling microscope. Atomic markers were added to the grids, making reading them easier and faster than previous methods.

SEE: Storage spotlight: SAN, NAS, tape, and all-flash arrays (Tech Pro Research)

This new atomic storage technology is a major discovery, but it is still in the proof-of-principle phase, and it has some major drawbacks that may slow its development. One of the biggest issues is that it must be kept at the temperature of -196 °C, which is the the boiling point of liquid nitrogen. While warmer and cheaper than using liquid helium as a coolant, as noted in Nature, it still creates a problem.

Matthew Brisse, a research vice president at Gartner, said that this could produce a cooling or power challenge for the data center. And, while capacity is an issue for most organizations, it depends on the trade-offs that come with the cost of maintaining such a technology. However, he said, if they’re able to eventually “can transport terabytes of data securely and reliably over the wire in a fraction of the time,” then they could have a big breakthrough.

Looking toward the future, the team believes that if they can properly scale the technology, they could eventually “pack hundreds of terabytes–equivalent to all the information contained in the US Library of Congress–into a cube the size of a grain of salt.” And, they believe it could open up new possibilities about what could be accomplished at the atomic scale.

Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst, Richard Fichera, said the it’s way too early to even begin to guess at the viability or market potential for the technology, but it is a very clever bit of physics.

“I think it’s great that people are exploring new storage technologies, because storage has not kept pace with the progress of other technologies,” Fichera said.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Researchers recently developed a new storage technology that could eventually fit 10 TB of data on a 1 cm metal surface, opening up new possibilities for storage.
  2. The technology uses chlorine atoms that can be rearranged in slots on a grid to represent ones or zeros, making the storage rewritable as well.
  3. The technology is still proof-of-concept, and has a few hurdles to cross before it gets anywhere close to public availability.