An ultra-durable quartz glass data storage system by Microsoft

21.01.2020 58

Every day, every second, digital information is being generated all around the world. From trivialities to very sensitive issues, all data from people and industries have to be stored.

The demand is massive and the efforts to develop more efficient, long-lasting and safer storage solutions don’t stop.

Facing this reality, Microsoft brings a very interesting idea to the table: quartz glass. Yes, glass as a new resistant and durable storage format. The reasons to choose this material make total sense. Glass can last thousands of years. It resists extreme environmental threats and the “bit rot” or data corruption caused by water or heat. Can it become the favorite cold storage solution?

How does quartz glass storage work?

Silica is the name of the Project developed by Microsoft in alliance with the University of Southampton. Their objective is to make a cold storage solution that lasts significantly longer (hundred or more years) than current technologies.

With the help of infrared lasers they create multiple data layers into the glass, in the shape of voxels. This means that a 3D nanoscale carves patterns with different angles and depths.

This is how they encode the information. To read it, they use light. And this process works really quickly thanks to machine learning algorithms that are in charge of decoding patterns and images.

Just the description of this process really makes you feel like in a sci-fi movie but, it is real!

It is worth to mention, that this innovative technique is possible thanks to the tech advances that current lasers have reached. What the Silica Project requires is not a common laser because it could break the glass. These infrared lasers, developed by the University of Southampton Optoelectronics Research Centre, are ultra fast and they have an extremely precise pulse. They are called “femtosecond” lasers.

With this winning combination: quartz glass, infrared lasers, light, and artificial intelligence, the Microsoft-Southampton attempt bets on a reliable storage choice with much higher durability, massive resistance and even eco-friendliness!

The glass turns out to be easier to maintain and replace. That means lower environmental impact by air conditioning and moisture control systems.

In terms of money, the quartz glass data storage system also sounds very attractive. What the developers state is that you only need to write the data in the glass once and it could last for 50 or more years. So there is no need for another backup in the future when a new generation of technology appears.

Ant Rowstron, principal researcher and deputy lab director at Microsoft Research Cambridge says: “femtosecond lasers permanently change the structure of the glass, so the data can be preserved for centuries”.

Quartz glass storage will be an excellent solution for companies that need long-lasting archives of data which won’t be altered. It is a single-write solution that will be very attractive to content-orientated companies like Netflix, Disney, HBO, etc.

Microsoft has a DNA storage solution for the same purpose, but the quartz glass is far more durable and easy to handle.

It is great to have alternatives, and be able to choose the right option for you.