Insurance is a business that lives on dies on data. Information about our customers is the very stuff of which our enterprise is made. We work with that data to assess risk and develop products that drive our businesses, and anything that helps us manage that information more efficiently will be a boon to us. 

When it comes to data, however, the amount of it that is being created in the Computer Age is actually outstripping our ability to store it. That’s part of the reason that efforts like cloud computing, which stores applications and data out in the ether instead of on our computers, are attracting so much interest. As I’ve mentioned before, however, such storage brings with it some security risks, and when it comes to the data that is our life’s blood, we’re not about taking risks. 

But what if you could store every bit and byte of data from your laptop or office PC (or both) on a single disc the size of a CD? What if all you had to do to have your data instantly available is to pop that disc into a Blu-ray-type player anywhere? What if you had the security of knowing that you could hold your precious data in your hand, rather than trusting it to a network of unknown machines and users somewhere out there on the Internet? 

This and much more seems quite possible thanks to a recent breakthrough by GE Global Research, the technology development arm of the General Electric Co.  GE announced recently that it has developed an optical storage technology that would allow 500 gigabytes of storage on a single DVD-size disc. That is equal to the capacity of 20 single-layer Blu-ray discs, 100 DVDs or the entire hard drive of a large desktop computer.

GE said its micro-holographic discs will be able to be read and recorded on systems very similar to a typical Blu-ray or DVD player. Holographic storage is different from today’s optical storage in that it uses the entire volume of the disc material, rather than just the surface. Holograms, or three-dimensional patterns that represent bits of information, are written into the disc and can then be read out.

The implications for the entertainment industry (storing an entire movie collection on a single disc, for example) are obvious, but the benefits for business users are also staggering. Optical technology is a very robust kind of data storage that’s not subject to the drawbacks of the magnetic-based technology utilized by standard hard disk drives, which can be compromised by nearby magnetic fields. If we no longer need standard hard drives, we no longer need desktop PCs or laptops as we know them. Thus, if and when this new technology sees widespread adoption, the devices we know today may be no more than amusing antiquities. 

Then there’s the possible impact on the enterprise storage systems at larger insurers and other sizable operations. Suddenly, the amount of physical space need to store huge amounts of data becomes very small, along with the room required to safely store data off-site. How quickly can data be recovered from the new discs?  Given the rapid access speed of existing optical technologies, it is likely that this will not be an issue. 

Of course, the security issue remains. If an insurance worker can lose massive amounts of customer data by leaving a laptop in a taxicab, that same worker can lose everything by accidentally misplacing the high-capacity disc, or having it plucked from his bag by a nimble-fingered no-goodnik. It’s obvious that encryption and other safeguards must be built into the disks and/or the devices that read them. While no security defense is 100% impenetrable, I am optimistic that a reasonable level of security can be provided.   

GE said it will initially be focusing on the commercial archival industry, followed by the consumer market for its micro-holographic storage technology. The promised ease of use of this techno ogy alone, however, makes it a must-have for the business enterprise. Stay tuned for more developments. 

Ara C. Trembly is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a noted speaker on and longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services. He can be reached at

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