Sony keeps optical discs alive with storage startup acquisition

Sony’s push to get enterprise users to store data on optical discs has received added momentum with its acquisition of a Facebook-linked startup focused on optical storage.

Led by former Facebook executive Frank Frankovsky, Optical Archive in California will develop new optical disc library systems for corporate clients’ “cold storage,” which hold data that aren’t accessed often but are preserved for a long time. Examples of such data are photos on social media sites and regulatory or legal documents.

The move marks the entry of Sony, which developed the Blu-ray disc over a decade ago, into data center storage, a market it has shied away from partly due to the limited capacity of its optical discs amid the explosion of cloud-based storage.

The struggling electronics maker wants to convince enterprise users to move from tape storage and hard drives to optical disc libraries by emphasizing that discs feature longer lifetimes, higher data throughput rates and lower cost.

The move reflects the view of companies like Sony, Facebook and Panasonic that optical media like Blu-ray discs have a future in business applications even as consumers turn away from them in favor of content streamed over the Internet. A 2014 report from Generator Research, however, predicted that revenue from DVD and Blu-ray sales will likely drop by 38 percent over the next four years.

Frankovsky is known for heading Facebook’s Open Compute Project Foundation, a group focused on sharing designs for data center hardware. He left his job as vice president of hardware design and supply chain operations at the social network last year to set up Optical Archive. He will remain CEO, a Sony spokeswoman said.

Last year, Facebook said it had built a cold storage system from 10,000 Blu-ray discs. The system holds a petabyte of data and cuts costs by 50 percent and energy use by 80 percent compared to a Facebook cold storage system that uses hard disk drives.

The movement toward optical storage comes as Sony and Panasonic announced a new optical disc called the Archival Disc. With the same dimensions as Blu-ray discs and geared to enterprise storage, it’s designed to have a lifetime of 50 years, with initial capacity of 300GB, and later 500GB and 1TB.

The new discs, scheduled to be launched this summer, do not need a special storage environment with constant temperature or humidity and do not require air conditioning, offering lower power consumption over linear tape-open technology (LTO), a magnetic tape storage format.

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