The world is facing a digital crisis brought about by the persistent and exponentially increasing rate at which data is being generated by businesses and individuals alike.
Every social media post, every online interaction and every uploaded image needs to be stored somewhere, and eventually it will be impossible for traditional hard-drive technology to keep up with demand for more and more memory.
Add to this the fact that people are turning to companies offering online backup in the UK to save their precious files and folders rather than relying solely on local storage, and the dilemma will appear to be especially acute.
The good news is that this week researchers at IBM announced a major development in storage technology which could help overcome the current limitations that are restricting the market and provide a future-proof solution that will avert a data-capacity disaster.
The breakthrough is being described as phase-change memory, or PCM for short, according to CBR Online. And although the technical underpinnings are understandably complex, in essence the ability to store three bits of information per cell means that PCM’s capacity can drastically exceed an equivalent storage device available on the market at the moment.
Previously, scientists had only been able to use PCM to store a single bit per cell, meaning that this threefold increase will be a major indication that the technology is commercially viable.
Research spokesperson Dr Haris Pozidis said that PCM was capable of mimicking the capabilities exhibited both by flash memory and by DRAM, offering higher density than the latter and a real-terms cost that is closer to that of the former.
While PCM could initially be combined with flash memory in order to offer a quicker-acting alternative on which crucial data can be stored for near-instant access, in the long term it will hopefully be developed as a complete replacement not only for flash storage but also for traditional hard drives.
As more and more data moves off devices themselves and into the cloud, it is crucial for companies offering online backup in the UK to be able to provide excellent levels of performance and accessibility from their servers. And if PCM becomes an appropriate option for organisations in this industry, then it could revolutionise both the amount of storage that is available and the extent to which its performance capabilities reflect the data-intensive expectations of access that customers place upon such services.
It seems likely that smartphones will be the first devices on which PCM is put to the test, with Dr. Pozidis and his team suggesting that handheld devices could use this next-generation memory as the sole storage solution for the underlying operating system. This would mean that Android and iOS could load up very quickly after a device is turned on rather than taking a minute or more to do so.
Flash memory will be retained for the storage of non-critical data, such as apps. But as PCM becomes more affordable, it seems reasonable to assume that it will be embraced more widely and potentially push flash memory out of the marketplace altogether.
In an enterprise environment, PCM is seen as being an excellent option for businesses that need to rely on lightning-fast responsiveness from their hardware in order to avoid suffering adverse consequences during daily use. In particular, this would be applicable in infrastructures that are designed to handle financial trades and other transactions, since often a matter of a few milliseconds can be the difference between turning a profit and making a loss.
Because of the diverse array of potential applications of PCM technology, it seems that it could eventually become a staple of the storage industry, both on local devices and in data centre environments. And of course the researchers at IBM are still going to be working on this technology in the coming months and years, perhaps resulting in further improvements in density which could bolster the chance of PCM’s success in the mainstream marketplace and enhance its life cycle.