China’s data storage narrows the gap with US

04-05-2018 | By Nnamdi Anyadike

The data storage technologies market is growing strongly on the back of the emergence of the new storage services that have emerged to deliver access to increasingly larger and more valuable data sets. This increase in big data is the result of, among other things, a growth in files and file systems and machine-generated data streams. And the on-demand nature of the ‘cloud’ is changing not only the way enterprises consume and pay for IT resources. It is also altering the way in which data storage providers deliver features, such as de-duplication, replication, compression and encryption.

The two giants when it comes to big data and data storage are the US and China. The current leader is the US whose companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon have amassed huge amounts of data. According to a recent FT report, data and data storage are increasingly seen by President Donald Trump’s administration as a strategic plank in its technological arms race with the Chinese government. And it is typically the small start-ups that are leading the way.

Spin Transfer Technologies, a California-based start-up has developed what it describes as “a breakthrough technology” that dramatically improves MRAM speed, endurance, and feature size. The technology called Precessional Spin Current (PSC) is a simple add-on to existing MRAM processes. MRAM is a non-volatile memory technology that stores data through magnetic storage elements.


Simplified structure of an MRAM cell. By Cyferz - wikipedia, Public Domain, Link

However, while it has some advantages over the longer established flash there are some drawbacks with regards to data retention and endurance. The PSC add-on is said to be cheap - $1/wafer - and the company is now licensing the technology to other MRAM makers. STT has now raised over $130m to fund their R&D, although the company does not expect the technology to reach commercial products “until mid-to-late 2019.”

Meanwhile, the algorithms that are now being developed in China are increasingly narrowing the gap on the US. And they are leading to the ‘mountains of data’ that are now being held by the Chinese government and state companies. President Xi Jinping’s goal is to transform his country into a world leader in AI technology, by 2030. And that is one of the key drivers of this data growth. China is in the forefront of facial recognition technology. And companies like the Shanghai-based artificial intelligence start-up Yitu Technology that won top honours last year in the US for its facial recognition technology, was built for Chinese law enforcement. It is capable of combing through the photographic data of more than 1.5 billion people.

China is looking to develop ‘deep learning,’ a more sophisticate and advanced form of the current machine learning technology. According to a report in April from McKinsey Global Institute ‘deep learning’ has the potential to add up to 9 per cent in value to a company’s revenues. The Chinese military is also keen to adopt big data to acquire a competitive edge. It is looking to use large data sets to enable it analyse pictures taken by swarms of spy drones.

Some of the data storage developments now coming out of China are nothing short of remarkable. In April, scientists at Northeast Normal University in China claimed to have developed a new form of high-density data storage that can store more than 1,000 times more data than a DVD in a piece of film measuring just 10x10cm.

Thanks to a nanoparticle-based film material that is more than 80 times thinner than a human hair the researchers led by Shencheng Fu claim that the new storage material could "holographically archive" data. Holographic data storage is a technique that uses lasers to create and read a 3-D holographic recreation of data in a material.

And because it can record and read millions of bits at once holographic data storage is much faster than the optical and magnetic approaches used for data storage today. These typically can only record and read individual bits one at a time. Metal-semiconductor nanocomposites made of titania and silver nanoparticles are said to show promise as a medium for storing nanoscale holograms with high spatial resolution. The innovation is expected to help fill the demand for more storage in the future and could one day enable tiny wearable devices that can capture and store 3D images of objects or people.

Describing the innovation in the journal Optical Materials Express Shencheng said, "In the future, these new films could be incorporated into a tiny storage chip that records 3D colour information that could later be viewed as a 3D hologram with realistic detail. Because the storage medium is environmentally stable, the device could be used outside or even brought into the harsh radiation conditions of outer space."

As Trump’s White House and Beijing continue to vie with each other on the world stage, it is clear that the accumulation of accessible data will play an increasingly important role behind the scenes.


Read More: Will the boom in public cloud services open the doors to cyber criminals?


By Nnamdi Anyadike

I have 30 years experience as a freelance business, economy and industry journalist, concentrating on the oil, gas and renewable energy, telecommunications and IT sectors. I have authored a number of well received in-depth market intelligence reports. And I have also spoken at conferences.