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Glass Data Storage: Microsoft's Vision for the Future


Microsoft Research, the innovative wing of the renowned software company, is delving into an avant-garde project named “Project Silica.” This initiative explores the potential of storing vast data volumes on glass plates, which if realized, might preserve information for millennia without any degradation.

Traditional storage mediums like magnetic disks have limited longevity, leading to frequent data recopying, amplifying energy use and costs over the years. Ant Rowstron from Project Silica says, “A typical hard drive could endure five years, while tapes might stretch to a decade if you're lucky.”

The idea of glass as a storage medium harks back to the 19th century when photographic negatives were conserved on glass plates. Fast forward to today, Microsoft envisions these glass discs accommodating several terabytes - enough to house about 1.75 million songs. Notably, once data is etched onto the glass, it becomes immutable.

Describing the mechanism, Microsoft explains:

“To archive data in glass, it's a quad-step method: initially using an ultrafast femtosecond laser to write, followed by a reading process through an automated microscope, then decoding, and finally, cataloging in a storage library. This storage is devoid of any electricity. The intricacy is in the robots that are on standby within the facility, springing to action when data retrieval is necessary. These robots locate the required glass plate and swiftly deliver it to the reading apparatus.”

Through years of evolution in the laser writing technique, Microsoft has refined its efficiency, enabling the storage of several terabytes on a single plate, which has the potential lifespan of 10,000 years. To put this in perspective, one plate could hold roughly 3,500 films, enough to run continuously for six months without repetition.

Though promising, this glass storage technology is nascent, needing several more phases of enhancement before it's ready for the market. Its merits include durability, eco-friendliness, and cost-efficiency, with major expenses only in the initial data embedding phase.

Collaborating with Microsoft's Project Silica, The Elire Group aims to exploit this technology for their "Global Music Vault" in Norway's Svalbard. This vault, using robust silica-glass plates, strives to establish a lasting archive resistant to electromagnetic interference, extreme temperatures, and being eco-conscious. Positioned alongside other significant repositories like the Global Seed Vault, this music vault is poised to become a holistic archive, preserving a broad spectrum of musical legacies.

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Posted: 2023-10-18
By: dwirch
Viewed: 142 times

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