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IBM Reinvents Punch Cards 309

grim_thing writes "I.B.M. scientists say they have created a data-storage technology that can store the equivalent of 200 CD-ROM's on a surface the size of a postage stamp. Writing in the current issue of the journal IEEE Transactions on Nanotechnology, researchers at I.B.M.'s laboratories in Zurich report that they have achieved a storage density of one trillion bits of data per square inch, about 25 times as great as current hard disks." Reuters also has a story.
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IBM Reinvents Punch Cards

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  • Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SuiteSisterMary ( 123932 ) < minus poet> on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:03AM (#3678524) Journal
    I'd have thought that most of the optical media, such as CD-ROM, was the spirtual, if not linear, descendant of punch cards. Only difference is how many holes, the idea of spinning for faster access, and using a "las-er" instead of some form of mechanical armature.
    • Many, perhaps most, punch card & tape readers used optical methods, basically shining a light through the hole with a dector on the other side. Mechanical methods at high speed would be too prone to damaging the media.
  • by Limburgher ( 523006 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:03AM (#3678527) Homepage Journal
    What if one's data contains dimpled chads? How will those bits be counted?
    • by sphealey ( 2855 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:25AM (#3678661)
      What if one's data contains dimpled chads? How will those bits be counted?
      The funny thing is when I am done voting I always turn the card over and check for chads. After the Florida thing I mentioned this to my spouse, who gave me one of those "only someone like you would think of doing that". I finally realized it was a result of the many hours spent in front of an IBM 029 keypunch, followed by 4 hours waiting for the card deck to come back from the machine room. When one hanging chad can kill a day's work, you tend to check for such things. But I imagine the percentage of people with that experience is getting lower by the day.


  • Yet will this be a good equivalent to the current storage methods available?
    • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

      by leuk_he ( 194174 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:12AM (#3678572) Homepage Journal
      They just sold their Hard disk unit to hitachi. And a few days later they report a new storage format.

      Makes you think...
      • They just sold their Hard disk unit to hitachi. And a few days later they report a new storage format.

        But the new technology is 10 years from market - with maybe a 1% chance of actually getting to market.
    • Re:Interesting (Score:3, Informative)

      by jscribner ( 546453 )
      It will definitely be different, and it's got some cool advantages. The announcement [] from IBM Research [] labs in Zurich [] talk about a data storage density 20 times that of today's best magnetic storage. Briefly, tiny V shaped heads make holes 10 nanometers wide in a plastic film - there are a number of interesting stats and potential applications described in the article, as well as some animations (1 [],2 []). The story is also reported in The NY Times [] and C|Net [].
  • by ajs ( 35943 ) <ajs&ajs,com> on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:06AM (#3678544) Homepage Journal
    So, that would be 120Gb in the size of a postage stamp. Not bad. Even if it takes a long time to write and longer to read back, this could wipe out tape archival for most backup purposes!
    • Unless of course you loose it.

      Still, you could always package it in a big box.

      • by $rtbl_this ( 584653 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @10:21AM (#3679007)

        Unless of course you loo[sic]se it.

        This reminds me of a revelation I had a few years ago, after getting my first CD-ROM drive. I'd manage to misplace a CD containing a multimedia encyclopedia and eventually found it sitting on the floor under my desk. I realised then that never before in human history had it been possible to lose an entire 28 volume encyclopedia by dropping it behind a piece of furniture. Now that's what I call progress!

    • by Andre060 ( 99353 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:14AM (#3678593)
      So, that would be 120Gb in the size of a postage stamp. Not bad. Even if it takes a long time to write and longer to read back, this could wipe out tape archival for most backup purposes!

      I'm not so sure. One of the most important factors in backups (if not the most important) is Cost per megabyte of storage. The article does not talk about cost.. How easy will these devices be to mass produce? What will they cost?


      • The article does not talk about cost.....What will they cost?

        I have no idea about how much the private section will charge, but the government will charge $0.34 per postage stamp errr....hard drive.

      • The storage medium itself is just Plexiglass. It should be very cheap. However I would speculate that it would have to be encased somehow because if the surface was contaminated (by particulates or liquid) it would close the holes, which may raise the cost quite a bit. Indeed because of this the technology may be unsuitable for removable storage entirely, and can only be used when the medium and read/write heads are securely sealed together inside the case.
    • Maybe it will just become the New Tape (tm). Just immagine the capacity of a whole tape cartridge of the stuff.
  • Kind of cool, but does this mean I need to start stocking up on vacuumm tubes for the Pentium 5?
    • Didn't I see somewhere that a (60MHz -- original) pentium made out of vacuum tubes (or valves, for you brits) would take up several football fields?
  • 80 columns? (Score:4, Funny)

    by turgid ( 580780 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:08AM (#3678559) Journal
    So, is the data stored in blocks of 25 rows of 80 columns? This will be handy for FORTH systems without file systems, and FORTRAN IV,66 and 77 programmers.
    • This will be very helpful. IBM finally got around to makeing something better
    • Just remember to load them 9-edge-down.
    • Back around '79 or so, I remember hearing a COBOL trainer (in a corporate setting) assert that in the next century, there would be a language called COBOL, even if there was not way of knowing what it would evolve (or maybe the word is mutate) into. By now, I feel pretty secure in seconding his notion that COBOL, the Legacy Language from Heck, is never gonna fade away. (In fact, as a career option I'm weighing COBOL as a language to concentrate on.) IBM apparently feels the same way, so it's not too surprising that they'd come up with a whole new way to archive all those billions of lines of code in the handy, familiar 80x25 format.
  • They maintain projects like this one, yet they sold their hard disk drives division to another (Hitachi?).

    Could this be yet another sign that HDD is not here for long?
  • possible use... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by paradesign ( 561561 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:12AM (#3678573) Homepage
    if its durable ernough (there are moving parts) i can see this being used by ther military since they would obviously last through an EMP blast. perfect for high density long term archiving. maybe we will all have on embeded in us and it wil contain our DNA table so in an emergency doctors can administrate gene therapy?

    just thinkin

    • Re:possible use... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheCrunch ( 179188 )
      "maybe we will all have on embeded in us and it wil contain our DNA table"

      DNA embedded in our bodies?! What a novel idea.

      But on topic, this development is cool. I look forward to having significant amounts of solid-state (well.. less moving parts) storage. It'll open the door for countless new computer applications. Digital voice recorders for example; ~90 days worth of audio in your pocket is very impressive.

      How does this compare (density-wise) to holographic storage?
    • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:59AM (#3678840) Homepage
      if its durable ernough (there are moving parts) i can see this being used by ther military since they would obviously last through an EMP blast. perfect for high density long term archiving.

      ...unlike optical media, which would obviously not last through...

      Wait. Nevermind.

      Somebody's been playing waaay too much Starcraft. The only way of generating an EMP Blast of any appreciable size or strength carries with it some other pesky side effects [], as well. That, and if such an EMP blast is ever generated, well, it'll take us a while to lament the loss of long-term digital archives...

      ...but I guess it's little more than sticking my head in the sand by saying that The Terrorists (tm) will never get their hadns on EMP technology []...after all, it only takes 100 energy units...

      • Re:possible use... (Score:3, Informative)

        by darthBear ( 516970 )
        Nuclear weapons are only one way to generate an EMP blast. Conventional explosives and even capacitor banks can also be used, albeit a less powerful signal but still an EMP.

        Furthermore the weapon that would be used with the intent of generating an EMP would probably not be much more than 1kt. Locally the effects would be disasterous but the world kept going after an 11kt and 21kt bomb in 1945. In fact with modern building standards and the fact that the bomb would be detonated in the atmosphere it is possible that the physical damage on the ground would be quite slight.

        That being said its still a nuke and hopefully they are never used again but I suspect that if they were the result of that one bomb would be less dire than you would have us believe.

    • and it wil contain our DNA table

      I think God has a case for prior art on that one...
  • Seriously... doesn't this announcement come at a strange time, when IBM plans to phase out it's IDE hard drives in the short term...
    • Seriously... doesn't this announcement come at a strange time, when IBM plans to phase out it's IDE hard drives in the short term...

      Think about it -- it may be that this is *why* the whole operation was sold off!
    • Seriously... doesn't this announcement come at a strange time, when IBM plans to phase out it's IDE hard drives in the short term...

      Yup... I don't think IBM would've given up 40 years of technical leadership in hard-drive technology if it hadn't already seen the writing on the wall. In the short term, hard drives have become a commodity business and it's been harder and harder for IBM (and others) to squeeze a profit from the business. Long term, hard drives are a buggy-whip business - a technological dead-end. That's why IBM has poured so much money into basic research on quantum devices and molectronics.
  • Just what we need.. no longer will our data be wiped due to EMP or head failures, but because some knucklehead wants to pick his teeth with a punchcard.
  • by f00zbll ( 526151 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:13AM (#3678588)
    Since there isn't a whole lot of details about this technology and exactly when it will show up in store shelves, it's kind of hard to guess IBM's plans for this technology. How plausible is it that IBM has something totally knew to replace HD technology and this is just another related development. Whether this can/could/should/would replace HD is hard to say without real data, but it might provide a clue. IBM might have some other bleeding edge technology lined up for mass storage, which lead to the development of this product?
  • Hrm... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Any projection on data loss due to hanging chads?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:16AM (#3678604)
    Can we get that translated into a tandard measurement, like Library's of Congress?
    • Well, we could translate it into Encyclopedia Brittanicas, but then nobody would tell you how much it costs.

      (don't moderate this comment unless you've had an encounter with an EB salesman in pre-internet times. Something tells me their sales strategy is much more customer friendly now for obvious reasons).

  • Why is it that... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gTsiros ( 205624 )
    ...the big blue relatively frequently comes up with reports/announces of various types of advanced technology regarding storage, yet they haven't shown an actual product for even one of these technologies? They are not even exceptionaly good on the HD market too (i don't bash them. i am just curious.)

    Technology is all sweet and nice...but without a product :/
    • yet they haven't shown an actual product for even one of these technologies

      Ever heard of the 340MB and 1GB CompactFlash drives? I think that qualifies as an IBM-developed storage innovation that made it to market.
  • by peterdaly ( 123554 ) <petedaly@i[ ] ['x.n' in gap]> on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:17AM (#3678616)
    I seems every couple of months one of these "new storage breakthrough" comes along. What happens to them? Where do they go? It seems like these things have yet to make it into consumer (or even "professional") technology. Have heard a lot about high density solid state storage, and stuff like that, yet I still have a platter spinning at 7200RPM next to my feet. Arn't we a little outdated by other technology standards using spinning pieces of metal to store our information, with no end in sight?

    These things are cool, but they become science breakthroughs, not news for nerds...stuff that matters? Do breakthroughs like this really matter to us? I am asking this because I really don't know. Where have semi-recent "Breakthroughs" like this made it into consumer technology that you and I can buy today? Or next year?

    • yet I still have a platter spinning at 7200RPM

      And I'll bet that platter holds 15GB/side, mainly thanks to those innovations that never go anywhere. Besides, just because I can't buy it tomorrow doesn't mean I don't want to hear about it. If that's all you're after, you should be reading a product review site.

    • How short do you think the life cycle is on these things? You're looking at a minimum of 5 to 10 years for most lab findings to make it to market. And don't forget, the all-mighty economy comes into play too. If it can't be produced cheaply enough in large enough quantities, it just becomes, "research results upon which other research is based on"

      The toys you're using now are the result of announcements made a long time ago. It's just that our memories are short. I remember many years ago when WORM drives first came out - ooh...1GB of storage - so what if you can only write it once, you'll never run out of that much space, *drool* *slaver*... Now I have a desk covered in CD's, half of which are from AOL...
    • Actually, you are using a recent revolutionary storage breakthrough, the GMR effect [], discovered around 1990. AFAIK, all drives with capacity >15gb use it.

      It usually takes a decade for a radical new technology like this to develop enough to make it onto the consumer market. Similarly, I expect much of the new science we hear about today to have come to commercial fruition around 2010.

  • how does this compare to their 1 gig cf microdrives? those seem to be even more space efficient....
    • Re:confused (Score:3, Informative)

      by freeweed ( 309734 )
      200 cd-roms is (roughly) 120Gb. On something smaller than a microdrive. Space-wise, you're talking over 100 times more efficient.
  • by gcondon ( 45047 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:18AM (#3678623)
    His holes are 10 nanometers ... and about 3 billion of them fit in a punch card hole

    I read the news today, oh boy
    4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancastershire
    And though the holes were rather small
    They had to count them all
    Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall
    I'd love to turn you on

  • about 25 times as great as current hard disks

    don't tell this to IBM, or they will drop the research project, along with the hard disk division.... !

    (yeah, I know... the sig is wrong... so what?)
    • Re:oops... (Score:3, Funny)

      by Eccles ( 932 )
      (yeah, I know... the sig is wrong... so what?)

      You could make it:
      667 The creepy neighbor across the street from the Beast
      667 The guy across the street from the Beast, who despite several complaints to the Homeowner's Association, still hasn't mowed his lawn to regulation height!
  • Oops! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Royster ( 16042 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:19AM (#3678631) Homepage
    I'd hate to drop a deck of punch cards that size. You'd need a microscope to put them back in order.
  • by Jacer ( 574383 )
    oh man that's an impressive storage capacity...can i use it more than 300 hours a month?
  • So, there's a thousand red-hot pokers, melting a trillion holes in a square of plexiglass. Each poker will make a half billion holes just filling up the chip the first time. Eeek! I assume these chips will come with plenty of error detection/correction, so that if one of the pokers quits, the remaining ones will give you the clues to what was in that 0.1% that you just lost.

    But certainly, there must be some sort of failure rate for each poker, and the chip... Is it too soon to know/guess these numbers?
    • by Drizzten ( 459420 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:34AM (#3678710) Homepage
      From the article:
      The Millipede chip consists of a layer of plexiglass a couple of billionths of an inch thick laid on a silicon chip. To write a bit of data, a microscope tip, heated to 750 degrees Fahrenheit, softens the plexiglass and dents it.

      To read data, the tip is heated to 570 degrees -- not hot enough to deform the plexiglass -- and pulled across the surface. When it falls into a dent, the tip cools because more surface area is in contact with the cooler plexiglass. That temperature drop reduces its electrical resistance, which can be easily measured.

      To erase data, a hot tip is passed over the dent, causing it to pop up.
      Those are pretty high temperatures. Might they affect reliability in the long run? Also, what about the actual lifetime of the plexiglass material they're heating up? How many times can it take the read/write/read/write process? Still, it's a nifty idea. Kudos to IBM.
      • From the article:

        To erase data, a hot tip is passed over the dent, causing it to pop up

        from the IBM Research Site []:

        To over-write data, the tip makes a series of offset pits that overlap so closely their edges fill in the old pits, effectively erasing the unwanted data. More than 100,000 write/over-write cycles have demonstrated the re-write capability of this concept.

        *sarcasm* Has Jon Katz started writing for the NYT?
    • Of COURSE it will.

      Do you think your hard drive stores bits raw? Heck no, there is an error correcting scheme in place at a low level.

  • by Jucius Maximus ( 229128 ) <m4encxb2sw@snkma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:26AM (#3678666) Journal
    Jack Valenti [] and Hilary Rosen [] are crying ...
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:38AM (#3678721)
    Does this mean that the people who are running these old systems can finally upgrade?
  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:43AM (#3678740) Journal
    Millipede still suffers a big drawback of mechanical systems. Reading and writing data with a single silicon tip takes about 1,000 times as long as with hard disks. To compensate, a second prototype chip uses 1,024 silicon tips to read and write data in parallel, bobbing up and down like a flock of birds pecking at dirt over a square area about a tenth of an inch wide.

    Why does this sound like the Google Page Ranking System based on Pigeon Technology []?

    I don't know, there may be some prior art here.

  • Are easily explained by this tidbit of news.

    Of course alot of people will be making jokes about punchcard technology. However, this technologie might solve the problems current drive manufacturers are facing. As the article states this might be a technology on the turning point of current mass storage. The similarity between punchcards and this product are only the use of "holes".

    This could be the breakthrough for data storage.
  • 1984... (Score:5, Funny)

    by StupidKatz ( 467476 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @09:53AM (#3678787)
    1984: Wow! Twenty megabytes! I'll never use all this space!
    1988: Wow! Eighty megabytes! I'll never use all this space!
    1994: Wow! A gigabyte! I'll never use all this space!
    1999: Uh, wow. Twenty gigabytes? I don't think I'll ever use all this space.
    2002: A hundred and twenty gigs? I... hm.
    2005: ... Ah, screw it.
    • You forgot: (Score:2, Funny)

      by leuk_he ( 194174 )
      640 Kb will be enough for everyone.
    • I presently have around 185 gigs worth of files lying around, on my various systems. True, the largest capacity of any single system is 110 gigs, but I find that there will always be a way to fill up a hard drive. For instance I presently have 6 DVDs worth DeCSSed to HD for network playback, because I hate scratching optical media, and i hate the quality loss of an mpeg-4 conversion. Noone on the internet is trading .vob files, but then i'm not interested in pirating them, just in preserving my investment. so frankly if you could get a 10 terrabyte drive at an affordable price, I'd be in line to get one. Based on the evolution of drive technology, I shoudn't have to wait more than 6-7 years for a 100 fold increase in size either. By then, maaybe mpeg-21 [] will be standard, and have good quality/bitrates.
  • Permanent storage? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Cesaro ( 78578 )
    This might be just what is need to get permanent storage. The life expectency of most media we have around today is fairly short in terms of it's overall data rentention capabilities.

    Taking these storage units, mounting them on something sturdy and sealing them in a vacuum container to prevent corrosion or breakdown and now the life of your data is incredibly longer.

  • This is interesting, considering the fact that they're quitting the hard drive business. Anybody think they'll reconsider?
  • out as the demo 'discs'. Postage Stamp on one side and 330 hours! on the back, plus the new version of Netscape, which will take up the rest of the space.
  • by return 42 ( 459012 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @10:13AM (#3678947)
    NYT: "I.B.M.'s holes are . . . half of a billionth of an inch across."

    Um, no. That would be about 1/8 the size of an atom. They also say the storage medium is "a layer of plexiglass a couple of billionths of an inch thick". That would be 1/2 the size of an atom, which is quite remarkable considering that plexiglass is a polymer.

    Reuters: "[The] holes are 10 nanometers. . ."

    Much more credible. That's about 100 atoms across.

    Why am I not surprised that no one at the Times caught this?

  • There's also an article at CNN: here []

    I must admit, I love this quote: The technology, ... was conceived by two scientists at IBM's Zurich research labs, who discussed the idea over beer after the company's weekly soccer games
    Hey, here's to drinking and computer development!!

  • by xant ( 99438 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2002 @11:30AM (#3679524) Homepage
    . . . about 25 times as great as current hard disks.

    All right, so how much denser is it than punch cards?
  • blockquoth Reuters:

    After six years of work the Zurich-based researchers say they can fit 1 terabit of data -- effectively the contents of a 100-gigabyte computer hard drive -- on a postage stamp-size piece of plastic.

    Reminds me of this Homer Simpson quote:

    Lisa! With a 10 thousand dollars, we'd be millionares!
    • After six years of work the Zurich-based researchers say they can fit 1 terabit of data -- effectively the contents of a 100-gigabyte computer hard drive -- on a postage stamp-size piece of plastic.

      Okay, so they rounded...would you have been much happier if they had said, "effectively the contents of a 128-gigabyte computer hard drive"?

  • ...if anyone works at the post office, please be on the lookout for a letter from IBM labs, I left my glasses at home, and it looked like a stamp...
  • ... you can write your PhD thesis, the Great American Novel, 2 slashdot comments and still have time to burn.
  • The plastic sits on a piece of silicon. Hovering above it are roughly 1,000 tiny phonograph arms, each with a needle on the end

    I assume this means that these arms must move around the media, so seek times will probably be slow. Also, what happens when one or more of the "arms" becomes defective/breaks? Obviously error correction will have to be built into the system. Though interestingly, since it depends on indents/holes, theoretically you could read the thing using a sufficiently powerful microscope if the rw mechanism ever failed.
  • Maybe now this phrase can make a comeback.
  • Data Security (Score:2, Interesting)

    by theblacksun ( 523754 )
    It's always been a problem with the magnetic techniques of hard drives to actually erase data. Even after formatting and overwriting, you can still read old bits because of the inprecision in the writing techniques (see this article []). Would this eliminate such a threat?
  • This technology sounds just like Stephenson's Diamond Age, where the nanobook had a vast amount of data and programming in it for the entire education of a child, and only the human voice readers weren't stored.

    Score another one for scifi.
  • Because of their low speeds, I see these developments replacing things like tape-drives and such, rather than replacing primary (RAM) or secondary (HD, CD, DVD) storage. In other words, nanotubes, &c. will comprise slow and super-dense tertiary storage. The gap between CPU and memory speeds is already widening. We don't need something to exacerbate that gap.

"The Avis WIZARD decides if you get to drive a car. Your head won't touch the pillow of a Sheraton unless their computer says it's okay." -- Arthur Miller