Tamarack Storage Devices Inc.Austin Tx


Imagine a two-hour movie on a video the size of a credit card, or the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica stored in a dime, or a brain-like network so dense and interconnected that it displays interpretive power and associative memory. Or how about the entire Library of Congress stored in one cubic foot. These are some of the analogies made by researchers at IBM Corp., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Southern California when describing the potential of holographic data storage. Not the pretty images on credit cards, magazine covers, and wristwatches, but data stored as microscopic holograms in hightech polymers and crystals. At the commercial forefront of this technology stands Austin-based Tamarack Storage Devices Inc., which will introduce the first viable holographic storage product, MultiStore, in the second quarter of 1994. This 50-gigabyte (50 million bytes), write once/read many (WORM) datastorage system, combines the speed and random access of hard-disk storage with the convenience and capacity of magnetic tape at a lower cost per byte than either. "We're on the verge of revolutionizing information-storage technology," says director of marketing David Misunas. "Users will finally have access to hundreds of gigabytes of storage that is portable, fast, and very inexpensive," says John Stockton, Tamarack's CEO. MultiStore is just the start. Another wave of products for erasable/rewritable storage is scheduled for introduction in the 1995-96 time frame. Unlike storage technologies that capture data only at the media surface, such as tape and disks, holographic media store data throughout their volume. Multiple holograms can be recorded in exactly the same spot by changing the angle of the laser beams doing the recording. "The three-dimensional aspect of this technology allows storage densities that are at least 10 times greater than existing magnetic or optical recording technologies," notes Mr. Stockton. In addition, data are stored and accessed in large blocks, rather than bit by bit, providing speedy access and transfer rates. "The current systems read 64,000 bits at one time," says Mr. Misunas, "compared to just one or two bits with magnetic storage. Delivering the information is then just a question of the speed of the electronics passing off the digital data stream." Specifically addressing applications that require storage, access, and transfer of large amounts of data, the market available for Tamarack holographic storage products in 1995 exceeds $30 billion worldwide, according to Mr. Misunas. Seven applications have been identified, including multimedia, video servers, portable computing, consumer audio/video, backup storage, imaging/record storage, and high-performance computing. "These segments are projected to have growth rates in 1995 from 30% for traditional applications like backup storage and high-performance computing to 60% for multimedia markets such as video on demand," says Mr. Misunas. "We hope to get 5% market share of four of these segments." Work on this technology began in 1986 at Microelectronics & Computer Corp. (MCC), a for-profit research consortium in Austin. The consortium serves shareholders such as Boeing, Digital Equipment, General Electric, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, National Semiconductor, and Westinghouse that bought in for $250,000, have full governance rights, and share in royalty income from third-party licensing. Associate members such as AT&T, IBM, Microsoft, Olin, TRW, and United Technologies ante up $25,000 per year and have governance rights only on projects they elect to participate in. "Our mission is to strengthen and sustain competitiveness of member companies that share a common vision in information technologies," says MCC CEO Dr. Craig Fields. "Competitors cooperate on higher-risk, longer-term, potentially highimpact technology. This reduces duplication of member-company investments in R&D and prototyping, and spreads the financial support and guidance of university and small-company research in areas of common interest." In 1990 MCC was awarded patents for two key breakthroughs in the underlying holographic-storage technology: the first for a higher-capacity, more-easily manufactured array of small crystallites to store holographic data, rather than a bulk crystal; and the second for nondestructive readout technology. Previously, reading the stored data destroyed it after only a few cycles. The patented technology allows billions of read/write cycles. In fact, "the hologram becomes more fixed with the passage of time," says Tamarack's Mr. Misunas (his company was spun off from MCC in August 1992). In 1991, on the strength of its optics-in-computing work, MCC received a $10.3 million Advanced Technology Program (ATP) grant from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce for the commercialization of holographic storage. The award, which requires industry-matching funds, supports the establishment of a syndicate of companies critical to the development of the industry infrastructure necessary for mass production of holographicstorage devices. "We were one of the first recipients of this kind of grant," says Mr. Misunas. "The program ... has become a model for Dept. of Defense research funding as well. It's part of the new dual-use theory." Members of the five-company syndicate assembled will provide matching funds of at least $12.6 million over the life of the five-year grant, bringing the total spending under the program to nearly $23 million. Tamarack does "the systems specification and integration," says Mr. Misunas. "All the other companies are focused on individual parts. We put them all together."

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