Blu-ray discs reduce data center cold storage costs

The cloud and streaming services have raised questions about the viability of disc-based media, but those concerns appear to have been brought up prematurely. The past year was filled with high-profile outages for some of the industry's foremost cloud storage providers, and Blu-ray discs continue to showcase higher quality playback features than Netflix and other Internet-based services. The lack of reliable and high-performance alternatives have ensured that Blu-ray remains a viable format for a variety of applications. Recently, Blu-ray discs have even emerged as a high-quality solution to some of the data center industry's most pressing concerns.

IDG News Service reported that Facebook has begun exploring utilizing Blu-ray media as a means to store data for its data centers. These facilities are tasked with shouldering major workloads on a significant basis due to the ever-growing popularity of the social media network. According to Facebook's most recent figures, the number of daily active users for December 2013 stood at 757 million, an increase of 22 percent over the same period  from the previous year. Meanwhile, there were approximately 1.23 billion individuals on the site for that entire month, representing a 16 percent increase year-over-year. More so than many other organizations, Facebook places a great deal of strain on its data centers. If these facilities were to encounter performance issues, the fallout could be extremely detrimental to the company's bottom line, as regular users may lose faith in the quality of its product and services.

Addressing high operational costs
In addition to reliability needs, Facebook and other heavy data center users require components that can help reduce operational costs. Data centers consistently consume a great deal of energy, driving up expenses for facility owners. According to The New York Times, digital warehouses used approximately 30 billion watts of electricity as of September 2012 – enough to match the production of 30 nuclear power plants. If left unchecked, these costs could skyrocket, eating into revenue streams for many businesses.

Facebook officials have experienced a great deal of success by using low-cost Blu-ray discs for their archiving and long-term storage needs. Data center operators often refer to this as cold storage, in which information is recorded and stored but only rarely accessed. For Facebook, this data may include user photos and other media that it may be asked to reproduce for members if their originals are lost, corrupted or otherwise compromised. Given the number of individuals with Facebook profiles on the planet, that is a lot of data that needs to be stored – and membership is always on the rise.

While traditional methods of cold storage have leaned on hard disk drives, officials from the company stated that Blu-ray offers a more cost-effective solution. Although this project is still in development, Facebook researchers have reportedly witnessed energy consumption levels drop by 80 percent, while overall costs were cut in half. According to Jason Taylor, Facebook's director of infrastructure, Blu-ray is also preferable to HDDs because of the format's scalability.

Energy-reduction, scalability benefits of Blu-ray
Ars Technica explained that one of the major benefits to Facebook's Blu-ray project is that energy is only used when the system is actively working. Data center operations are rife with inefficiencies that waste electricity and drive up costs. Many facility managers feel that there is no way to avoid these expenses as data centers need to be online at all times, requiring all components to be up and running night and day. However, when the Blu-ray system is not needed, it consumes a fraction of the energy that an alternative mode would.

Facebook's director of hardware engineering Giovanni Coglitore praised the format's durability and scalability in a recent video demo. For organizations that oversee complex data center environments and must manage numerous components and complex networks, replacing faulty devices or making an expansion can be difficult. The simplicity of Blu-ray adequately addresses these concerns, however.

"Each disc is certified for 50 years of operation; you can actually get some discs that are certified for 1,000 years of reliability," Coglitore said. "Because the media is separate from the drives, if you ever have a drive issue, you simply replace the drive, and you won't have to replace the data within a disc. From a reliability and operational standpoint it's quite elegant and efficient."

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