Despite the rumors, it seems that optical media is not dead – at least not yet.
Streaming may have pushed physical media (DVD and Blu-ray) out of the spotlight, into dollar stores and the occasional bucket, but Folio Photonics, a startup that covered extensively in 2022, it wants to break this trend and open up a new market for optical media: enterprise.
Folio Photonics CEO Steve Santamaria revealed in an email conversation with TechRadar Pro that the initial capacity of the company’s first drive will be “over 1 TB of capacity per drive”, and is expected to increase to over 10 TB by the end of the decade.
This means you only need a few of them to back up external hard drives or SSDs, making it a great complement to cloud storage.
The startup has already revealed on its website that the media will cost around $3 (around £2.40 / AU$4.30) per TB, bringing the price of a single drive to $3. Travis Johnston, director of market strategy for Folio Photonics, added: “While actual specifications have yet to be released, we believe this capacity and suggested price are very achievable with our material/manufacturing innovations.”
By comparison, a single 25GB BD-R blank writable Blu-ray media costs less than $0.40 when purchased in a box of 50. That’s $16 a TB (around £13/AU$23), more than 5 times what Folio Photonics is projecting for its first generation products.
The Folio Photonics Optical Drive (ODD) will unfortunately run at a hefty premium in the $3,000-$5,000 range, at least initially. As with CD burners, then DVD and Blu-ray, cost efficiency due to economies of scale – as Folio technology gains ground – and reusing existing supply chains is likely to reduce this by at least an order of magnitude if all goes according to plan with a plan.
A long road to success
30 years ago, Philips introduced a desktop CD-burning system, the CDD521GN, which fetched a price of $8,495, four years later, HP introduced the Surestore CD-writer for one-tenth the price, and at the beginning of this century, you could buy a CD-writer for less than $100 USD.
Folio Photonics wants 10TB media for less than $1 per TB by 2030, a symbolic lower bound that neither LTO nor HDD will be able to achieve at the same time. However, we are still not at that stage as commercial drives and drives are not expected to be available until 2026, and data centers and hyperscale markets are likely to be customers for what Folio Photonics calls “the first-ever enterprise-scale optical storage solution.” . which, unlike the consumer market, is much more lucrative.
Cassettes, disk carousel and disk trays will allow for cheap, small size and high capacity. Sony, one of the market leaders, launched the ODC5500R 5.5TB cartridge in 2019, consisting of eleven 500GB WORM drives (write once, read many) and is the standard in the long-term archiving/cold storage market.
These retail for around $275 or around $50 per TB, and the price of the CD burners is much higher than the Folio Photonics suggests. In our interview, Mr. Santamaria confirmed that he feels comfortable pointing to the SONY ODA (Optical Disc Archive) indicators as comparable, which – in the case of the ODC5500R – reach 375 MB/s read and 187.5 MB/s write.