Storing up to 7TB of data on something the size of a DVD might not sound all that groundbreaking in a time where SSD storage with that sort of capacity is notably smaller in physical stature.
Microsoft's Project Silica is genuinely fascinating because it's offering precisely that, with the something being glass - with the company describing glass storage as a sustainable cloud storage solution with data integrity that could last up to 10,000 years. According to Microsoft, a small sheet of glass can store up to 1.75 million songs or 3,500 movies.
The Global Music Vault in Svalbard, Norway, is already collaborating with Microsoft Research's Project Silica team to use silica-based glass plates to house its music archive. Microsoft's Project Silica has been in development for some time now, with recent advances improving the overall speed and durability of the medium - paving the way for it to become a cloud storage solution.
The durability side of the tech is its most significant selling point, alongside the sustainability and eco-friendly approach.
"Magnetic technology has a finite lifetime," says Ant Rowstron, Distinguished Engineer of Project Silica. "You must keep copying it over to new generations of media. A hard disk drive might last five years. A tape, well, if you're brave, it might last ten years. But once that lifetime is up, you've got to copy it over. And that, frankly, is both difficult and tremendously unsustainable if you think of all that energy and resource we're using."
It's also worth noting that once data is written to glass, "it's impossible to change," so data is written, stored, and ready to be called upon when needed or in thousands of years. The data can be stored without any electricity at all, with robots on hand that will "awaken" when the data is needed, climb shelves, and then fetch the required glass - leading to an archival system that is incredibly sustainable compared to the traditional data center of today.
Here's how Microsoft envisions the whole process working.
The Write Lab
Using a laser system to modify the glass, data is encoded in the glass in voxels or 3D pixels.
The Read Lab
A reader is a computer-controlled, quick-moving microscope that can rapidly move to the data a user wants to retrieve.
The Decode Lab
Azure AI reads code written in glass, turning it into usable information.
The Library Lab
A robot is sent to fetch the piece of glass with the desired data and bring it to the reader.
Glass is immune to electromagnetic pulses, water resistant, and can withstand extreme temperatures - making it an impressive solution. Microsoft notes that the technology is still in development and will require at least three or four more "development stages" before it's ready for commercial use.