The TeraDisc – it’s not replacing something, it’s filling a void.Dr. Beth Erez likens the new optical storage discs developed by Israeli startup Mempile to the digital equivalent of the shoeboxes our parents and grandparents once used to store their most treasured momentos.
Just as Erez, Mempile’s chief marketing officer, discovered an old box of 8mm films hidden away in her mother’s house, so she one day envisions a day when her children or grandchildren will discover her most treasured memories stored carefully away on a Mempile TeraDisc.
The difference, of course, is that those old shoeboxes couldn’t really hold much information, while the TeraDisc, which is slightly thicker than standard CDs or DVDs, promises to hold a massive one terabyte of information on a single, removable disc.
That’s the equivalent of 212 DVD-quality movies, 250,000 MP3 files, and 1,000,000 large Word documents.
Data storage is increasingly important today and will become more so in future. As the use of rich media grows exponentially, users are under more and more pressure to find a safe place to store all this new information. The optical disc revolution began with CDs, moved to DVDs, and we are now in the midst of the next battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray. When CDs were first produced they could store 600 megabytes. Today they hold 50 GB, which is still peanuts compared to what Mempile hopes to offer.
“From iPODs to Tivo, the amount of digital content that consumers are recording and storing in their homes is increasing like never before. The resulting problem is that the information is stored as ‘islands’ on various devices as well as on home PCs, which often function as a central repository by backing up the content of the devices, with the inherent risk of the hard disk drive crashing,” said Avi Huppert, Mempile’s CEO, in a company statement.
Mempile’s TeraDisc is the next-generation storage disc. The disc is divided into 200 different layers, five microns apart, each comprising 5GB of storage space. Unlike standard multilayer DVDs, the layers are not physically stacked and stuck together. Instead, they are solid and use a translucent polymer mixture known as ePMMA (polymethyl methacrylate) that gives the discs their distinctive yellow color. The mixture was specially developed by Mempile and Arkema, a spin-off of French company Total, one of the world’s largest petrochemical companies. Arkema began as a strategic partner in Mempile, and is now a strategic investor.
“We think it’s game changing technology. It’s a niche in the home where there’s nothing to fill it today. It’s not replacing something, it’s filling a void,” says former New-Yorker Erez.
According to Huppert, the TeraDisc has a 50-year lifespan, and is likely to be a fraction of the price of alternative solutions on the market.
Huppert founded Mempile in 2000. He first began thinking about the idea of large-scale storage in the late 1990s while he was still a student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and looking for a way to keep permanent archives of his ever-growing library of data.
In its first round of investment, Mempile raised $1 million from private investors. Since then it has gone through various rounds of investment over the years, raising a total of $33.2 million from investors which include Millennium Materials Technologies, Kodiak Ventures, Israel Seed Partners, Jerusalem Venture Partners, Hitachi CSK Venture Capital, Portview, and Alta Berkeley.
The company, which employs 30 at its offices in Neve Ilan near Jerusalem and in Tokyo, Japan, has already proven the disc is capable of storing up to 1TB, and is now scaling up for mass production. Aside from developing a drive for the disc, the company is also working on preparing this disc itself for injection molding, to speed up the production process.
“The good thing about this technology is that it’s basically an evolutionary step from previous technologies. Its components are the same in terms of name and functions, but are clearly modified to suit our requirements,” Erez told ISRAEL21c.
The first prototypes of the TeraDisc will reach the market in 2010, and will be aimed at the enterprise storage market – areas like healthcare (medical records), finance, government, broadcasting, and video surveillance which have strict data retention and compliance requirements. Each of these sectors now require archival storage technologies that can hold a high capacity of information, but which are secure, permanent, removable and affordable.
Prices will initially be high – the drive is likely to cost in the region of $3,000 and 600GB discs in the region of $30-50, but will fall as economies of scale are introduced. By 2012, the TeraDisc will be ready for the consumer market, entering the home storage field at the high end. There are currently no solutions for archiving personal content other than low-capacity optical media, which has a limited lifespan.
With future optimization and the jump to blue laser technology, the company believes it will be able to follow the TeraDisc up with a blue-laser version that could store up to 5TB.
In the world of high technology, this all sounds like a long way away, but Mempile recognizes that the market is not yet ready for this revolution. It also understands its own shortcomings. “We need partners,” says Erez simply. “As a startup, we can’t compete with electronics suppliers. To make it in this market we need a major conglomerate. We believe we have the next generation technology, but we can’t do it by ourselves, so we have to make people aware of us. This is the key reason that we have gone public about what we do.”
Does Erez ever worry that they might be pipped at the post? “It concerns me every day,” she admits. “I’m constantly reading, trying to figure out what’s going on. The market can change suddenly, or some other physicist can pop up unexpectedly with a solution. At the end of the day though we can basically only look at what we know.
“We can see the capacity of magnetic storage is growing, for instance, but it’s not a permanent media. We see it as a complimentary or synergistic technology. If people are using more magnetic storage in their homes or at work, they will need more archives, so that’s good for us,” Erez says. “People are also saving things online, but again the American consumer might be willing to put things online, but they will also want to put them in his closet, specially if it’s a cheap media. At the moment we offer a great advantage to anything else emerging.”
The industry is definitely interested. “Some of the vendors are talking to us seriously, some are just listening, but we do have an audience,” says Erez. “The Japanese industry is the major source of electronic vendors today and they are gearing up for whatever the next generation technology will be, even while they try to get a return on the technology they just released. 2010-2012 fits their market needs.”
The following year is going to be a highly significant one for Mempile, admits Erez. “It’s the make or break it year.”