What do prehistoric petroglyphs have to do with modern data storage? If you're looking to make a permanent copy of your data, everything. Earlier this month, Salt Lake City-based Millenniata (www.millenniata.com) announced it has taken technology developed at Brigham Young University--inspired by those petroglyphs--capable of making the storage of data far more permanent than what exists today, to the market. We spoke with CEO Scott Shumway.
What is Millenniata?
Scott Shumway: To lay the groundwork for you, the problem is that we have been creating digital data for fifty years, but we've never created a way to record it permanently. There is a ton of data out there, and the amount of data is increasing exponentially. But, that is the problem. We are really good at creating the data, transferring the data, but we're not very good at recording it on a permanent basis. What we have done, is we have developed a disk that records the data, optically recorded onto our disk, where it is there permanently. We've done that through a technology we licensed and development, which is really revolutionary. That technology allows you to record data with confidence, knowing that you can put it on the shelf and it will not go away, and will not degrade.
Where did that technology come from?
Scott Shumway: We've been working on this for about three years, but the original technology came from Brigham Young University. It was developed there by two professors,Barry Lunt, and Matt Linford. It was an interesting idea that came from Barry Lunt, when he was in Southern Utah looking at some of the Indian petroglyphs. It occurred to him that those petroglyphs had been put there over a thousand years ago, and you could still read them. But, here today, we can't record anything nearly that permanent. The most permanent way we know to record something is with paper and pencil. He wondered about that, looked at it, and noticed that they hadn't painted on the rock--they had etched it on rock. He talked to Matt Linford, and they decided it was an engineering problem.
They developed a synthetic, rock-like material, which could be sputtered onto a disk, as the data layer. On disks, that is usually an organic material, such as a dye, which when it is written to on a drive a lser hits and makes a burn mark. However, because it is organic, it degrades. All organic materials have a half life, and after a while it degrades so much you can't read it. That's the way all disks are made. On our disk, what is laid down on the data layer is instead a rocklike substance, which when a drive makes a mark, is etched into that data layer. The different between all other disks and ours, is that they burn information into a dye, and we etch information into a rocklike substance.
We understand the technology is similar to a normal DVD format?
Scott Shumway: Once written, the disk can be read on any DVD. It's backwards compatible. However, it must be written on a drive that has been tuned and can qualify. Right now, that are LG drives. Beginning September first, they are making all of their drives M-Compatible. That means that it will write to our disk, and once written to our disk, it can be read in any DVD anywhere.
Who would be interested in a more permanent store of data--archivists, the government, or just anybody?
Scott Shumway: The answer is that this applies to anyone who wants to save their data. If you are a consumer and and you have family photos, or precious information or documents that is important for you to save, or music that you love and want to keep permanently, our disk won't degrade over time. There ar egreat applications for the consumer. When you go to businesses, B2B, enterprise, the government, they have huge quantities of information they want to store permanently. It's a big task and problem in government, where they have to refresh that data ever five to seven years, maybe every 10 years if they're lucky. They're currently having to migrated that data, moving it, because it is continually degrading. Migration of that data is a huge expense to a company, not to mention the costs of having to have things air conditioned and humidified so they don't lose their data. We believe our technology has broad applications across all market segments.
Does that come with a cost differential?
Scott Shumway: There already other archival disks out there, which are referred to as gold disks. Our disks will be comparably priced to those, or even a little less. In general, you can purchase them for $2.75 to $3.50 each, if you are buying just one. We'll be in that price range, and if you are buying more will be discounted. The drive itself, the LG drive, will not be upcharged to be M-capable. They're using the capability as a market differentiator. We have a logo on the bezel of the drive itself, as well as a little information on the outside box of the LG drives. There will be information there to educate consumers about what an M-DISC is and what it means to them.
What is your background, and how did you get into this?
Scott Shumway: I've been in business startups and that kind of stuff since 1981, and I was an investor in the company. Things were going well with the production and technology itself, but when the business started needing some help, I came in--about a year or so ago. We've been able to move things forward from a business perspective, talking to different drive makers, for example, when we came across Hitachi-LG, and they tested our disk and loved it.
What do you think will trigger the realization that people need your technology?
Scott Shumway: The biggest thing, which you've identified, is education. I don't know about you, but until three years ago I though the information I put on a DVVD would always be there. I did not realize disks were not permanent. The way I look at it, is when people purchase disks, they think they are buying something they were getting all along. Most people are like me, and are not technically oriented--and when they put data on a disk are thinking it's there permanently. They don't realize that, in two or three years, those disks start to skip, the disk couldn't play their music, they didn't give it another thought. They just spent another 50 cents on a new disk. That's how most people are right now. Our challenges, particularly at the consumer level, is to educate the consumer. We need to let them know that their data is not safe, and there is such a thing as data rot. However, we don't need to convince the archivists in enterprise, government, and business, who know that, but I think with consumers we need tp make sure we get the message out.
Are you able to apply your technology to future formats--for example, Blu Ray and beyond?
Scott Shumway: I think Blu Ray is a great technology, and I believe our disks can be adapted to that technology and increased capacity. One the capacity has been increased, we believe that, and so does LG, we think it can become a standard. There are some developments in our future, and parts of our roadmap, and we're already moving forward in those areas.
We've heard taking technology from a university into commercial product is often difficult. Having come out of a research project at BYU, have you found that is the case?
Scott Shumway: Taking it out of the lab and learning how to take the technology and move it to production, so that you can make millions of disks, has been a huge challenge. It's one thing to produce a single disk, but it's another to find out how to replicate it, and make sure your quality stays where it needs to be. That was a big challenge. We've been able to do that.
Finally, what's the biggest goal for you in the next few months?
Scott Shumway: Launching. The launch we started last week has so many different avenues and different roads it could go down. It's very complicated. We are spending so much time, not just getting the word out, which is important, but also spending time with companies, who have asked us to show them how this is done. It's not complicated, but it's such a new technology, it's important to educate people about it.
Thanks, and good luck!