Glass – The future of storage devices

The world is generating a huge amount of data every day. We consume as well as produce data digitally every hour. To give you some inkling, the International Data Corp anticipates the world to produce 175 zettabytes of data by 2025, which is 142 zettabytes more than the data that was stimulated in the world in 2018.

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Analyzing such a huge draft change in data consumption and production, people have now started to find a more efficient and effective alternative to storage devices. For individuals storage services such as Dropbox, Onedrive, Google photos, Google Drive has eased the complexities of data management. Yet for servers storage management is a sophisticated act.

Looking at the problem of storage space, Microsoft Research in Cambridge in partnership with the University of Southampton declares a breakthrough with exclusively new storage format, Glass. 

Glass - The future of storage devices

Project Silica, which is formulated by Microsoft Research in Cambridge in partnership with the University of Southampton, is a four-year-old experiment to develop storage for the requirements of cloud computing, rather than personal devices. However, Microsoft is not the only one, Seagate is also working on utilizing glass for optical data storage. “The challenge is to improve systems that can read and write with reasonable throughput,” John Morris, chief technology officer at Seagate.

In early November 2019, Microsoft and Warner Bros revealed Project Silica by storing the movie Superman 1978 on a 7.5cm by 7.5cm chunk of glass. Microsoft has also experimented it out by embedding the code base for Windows 10 on to a 2.5cm by 2.5cm piece of glass.

Unlike hard drives and magnetic disks, the glass format of storage is much more reliable, it’s resistant to data corruption known as bit-rot from heat, flood, or even solar flares. It was nothing more than theory before the development of lasers also known as femtosecond lasers. Project Silica’s procedure builds up layers of data into the glass on “voxels”.

Yet, there is still a long way to go as glass is not a very efficient and effective format. It’s very slow, a single movie of 2 hours such as Superman can take days to embed. Unlike magnetic and hard drives glass storage is not formattable i.e. it’s not reusable, even after crushing the glass to salt it embeds the data within. It’s also very expensive compared to existing storage devices probably due to the cost of lasers.

“The writing process is hard to make reliable and repeatable, and it’s hard to minimize the time it takes to create a voxel. The read process has been a challenge in figuring out how to read the data from the glass using the minimum signal possible from the glass,” -Ant Rowstron, deputy lab director at Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge.

Yet its speed will be developed soon cause even the days time it takes to write a 2-hour movie was not even possible before a decade.

 Nevertheless, we can expect it as the future of storage devices.

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