Universities embark on £8.1m pursuit of laser-based storage tech

research charts

An 8.1 million training facility has been set up to address the growing need for technologies that can help boost the capacity of storage devices, as enterprises continue to accrue increasing amounts of information in the cloud and because of big data.

The University of Glasgow and Queen's University of Belfast have joined forces with 12 industry partners to create the training centre that will be used to train up 50 PhD students in integrative photonics and its applicability to data storage and information processing.

It is hoped these individuals will go on to forge a career as researchers in the field of photonic integration, which looks at how optical components such as lasers, modulators and multiplexers can be combined to help improve the efficiency of data storage.

Students will spend time at both universities, and in industry, over the course of their studies.

The Centre for Doctoral Training in Photonic Integration for Advanced Data Storage, as it's been named, hopes to find a way to develop a commercially-viable photonic integration technology that can make it easier to write data to disk, and in turn allow a large amount of data to be stored on a device.

At the moment, the universities have tipped heat-assisted magnetic recording as the technology that will ultimately help them address the storage capacity issue.

This uses electromagnetic energy to locally heat the disk to ease the writing of data on to it, and requires photonic components to be integrated into the recording head to be effective.

Professor John March, head of the school of engineering at the University of Glasgow, said the development of this technology has huge implications for the IT industry, as the mobile, cloud and big data trends continue to fuel the demand for high-capacity storage devices.

"While much of personal computing and related electronic devices are moving to SSD, there is still increasing need for [hard disk drives] HDD in personal usage in the form of back-up drives, personal TV systems and video recorders," said March.

"The biggest growth sector is in... cloud computing, where data is stored remotely. Already, almost all of e-commerce and the internet rely entirely on data farms filled with large numbers of server' computers and these use HDDs to store commercial and personal information everything from bank details to social media."

To emphasise this point, he claimed cloud accounted for 25 per cent of the total storage used in 2012, and by 2020 will account for more than 60 per cent.

"This growth is driven by the use of mobile systems for example a server is needed for every 600 smartphones or 120 tablet computers, which means that HDDs of increasingly capacity are required."

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.