Panasonic to commercialize Facebook's Blu-ray cold storage systems

Facebook has said Blu-ray can cut costs significantly for long term data storage

Panasonic freeze ray

Panasonic announced its freeze ray data archiving systems at a CES press conference on Jan. 5, 2016

Credit: James Niccolai

A couple of years ago, Facebook revealed it was using Blu-ray disks as a cost-efficient way to archive the billions of images that users uploaded to its service. Now, Panasonic has said it plans to commercialize the technology for other businesses, and is working on new disks that will hold a terabyte of data.

Panasonic is calling its product line "freeze-ray," because it's used for a type of storage known as cold storage, where large amounts of data need to be stored for long periods of time and are rarely accessed.

When Facebook users upload photos, they're often viewed frequently in the first week, so Facebook stores them on solid state drives or spinning hard disks. But as time goes on the images get viewed less and less. At a certain point, Facebook dumps them onto high-capacity Blu ray discs, where they might sit for years without being looked at.

Blu-ray discs were at risk of dying out as streaming services like Netflix took over, but the interest from Facebook and other vendors has kept the technology alive and is now driving down costs. Facebook has said its Blu-ray system is 50 percent cheaper than using hard disk drives for cold storage, and 80 percent more energy efficient.

At a press conference at CES Tuesday, Panasonic didn't give many details about its plans, including release dates or prices, but Yasu Enokido, president of its B2B division, said the company hopes to make Blu-ray an "industry standard" for cold storage. He praised Blu-ray for its "longevity, immutability, backward compatibility, low power consumption and tolerance to environmental changes."

Facebook's first generation of systems used 100GB disks. Later this year it expects to deploy 300GB disks, Panasonic said, and the companies are working on 500GB and 1TB disks. Hundreds or even thousands of disks can go in a single system, giving petabytes of archival storage.

Panasonic worked with Facebook to design the freeze ray systems, Enokido said. But Panasonic won't have the market to itself. Rival Sony recently bought Optical Archive, a Facebook spin-off company that's working on similar technology. Also, Facebook planned to release its cold storage designs through the Open Compute Project, meaning other manufacturers can build similar products.

Still, with another big manufacturer like Panasonic on board, Blu-ray seems to have a bright future for long-term storage.

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