Tuesday, November 5th 2019

Microsoft Unveils Project Silica, a Durable Silica Glass-based Optical Storage Media

Microsoft's cloud computing business unveiled Project Silica, a cold-storage device that's designed to stand the test of time. Essentially an optical storage media, it is a 7.5 cm x 7.5 mm x 2 mm square piece of glass that can store up to 75.6 GB of data (inclusive of error-correction code). Unlike conventional optical media such as CD or Blu-ray, which relies on etching pits of different lengths on a plastic substrate to denote ones and zeros, project silica uses nanoscale gratings and deformations, while AI is used for error-correction to overcome any aging of the media. The company developed a proof-of-concept using quartz glass.

"A laser encodes data in glass by creating layers of three-dimensional nanoscale gratings and deformations at various depths and angles. Machine learning algorithms read the data back by decoding images and patterns that are created as polarized light shines through the glass," writes Microsoft in its description of how Project Silica works. CD can typically hold data for 1-2 centuries provided that the disc is stored properly. After that, the plastic physical layer decays, losing data integrity. Project Silica, on the other hand, is designed to be resilient not just in a box, but also outside it. The media can "withstand being boiled in hot water, baked in an oven, microwaved, flooded, scoured, demagnetized and [withstand] other environmental threats that can destroy priceless historic archives or cultural treasures if things go wrong," says Microsoft.
So what does a cloud computing company have to do with a super-durable optical storage media? Everything. We predict Microsoft could to pitch Project Silica as its proprietary high-endurance cold-storage medium to customers who want it. This will come especially handy for customers like the U.S. Military, which recently contracted Microsoft to build the JEDI Cloud. Project Silica isn't just on paper, Microsoft Azure has been able to successfully store and retrieve the Warner Bros film "Superman" on a proof-of-concept made of quartz glass. The company will work with Warner Bros to eventually copy its vast asset library spanning hundreds of films across thousands of film reels, onto the new media. Source: Microsoft
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26 Comments on Microsoft Unveils Project Silica, a Durable Silica Glass-based Optical Storage Media

#1
TheLostSwede
Now we're getting closer to Star Trek style storage devices. This is pretty cool and interesting at the same time.
I'm guessing it's very slow to read the data and even slower to write it though.
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#2
Xzibit
One step closer to a Crystal Skull Dr. Jones
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#3
rutra80
did they test it with a hammer?
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#4
Athlonite
Can survive being demagnetized LOL OK considering this isn't a magnetic form of storage I would assume it can withstand an EMP
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#5
bonehead123
Welcome to the 2020 version of the zip disk :roll: :eek: :fear:

But pleeeeze, somebody knock Microsloft upside their collective heads and make it work with open standards, not more of that proprietary, closed-off bullcrap of yesteryear......
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#6
Chomiq
Can they archive Superman IV and then burn the negative and smash that silica to pieces?

On a serious note I do wonder what resolution they use to digitize these negatives.
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#7
Crackong
Isn't that just laser etching on glass ?
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#8
GlacierNine
Crackong
Isn't that just laser etching on glass ?
Not quite. Firstly, it sounds as though the laser etch is inside the glass, not simply on the surface. (Not unusual, but not exactly within the capabilities of your repurposed 3D printer, say) Secondly, it sounds as though it's multi-layered, not just a single flat plane of etching.

Even then though, sure, the actual technology used to manufacture this might have existed in some form for some time, but that's not really the point. Books are technically just "slapping some bug paste onto dead tree". Does that make the printing press the same thing as a calligrapher? Of course not.

Most technologies are built on principles that were well understood, and even in use for decades/centuries before something revolutionary came along like say, printing, instead of handwriting. This sounds like they're taking laser etching and taking it much, much further, in order to create essentially indestructible, non-degrading data storage.

I can imagine that with tech like this, it would be dramatically more difficult to damage than any previous medium, and even if in some freak circumstance your little glass tablet of data got scratched or chipped, it would be possible, as long as the crack didn't reach to the data layer inside, to subsequently polish it up to an optical standard again, recalibrate for the change in refraction, and rehabilitate the media back into a readable state. That's exciting stuff for the idea of data permanence. I can't think of any other medium remotely that resilient.
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#9
Mouth of Sauron
No, no, no, no. No. Remeber several years ago when USA voters successfuly made a petition (or whatever is it called) for a government to make a Death Star? Well, it's show clearly what public things of Star Trek / Star Wars rivalry...
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#10
L'Eliminateur
Crackong
Isn't that just laser etching on glass ?
pretty much, only that it's 3D, infinitely more precise and fancy.
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#11
GlacierNine
L'Eliminateur
pretty much, only that it's 3D, infinitely more precise and fancy.
And, you know, they've had to build a machine that can not only etch the glass that precisely, but that can also look at what it has etched and interpret it as a few dozen gigabytes of contiguous data, which is pretty damn impressive in its own right.
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#12
Hardware Geek
TheLostSwede
Now we're getting closer to Star Trek style storage devices. This is pretty cool and interesting at the same time.
I'm guessing it's very slow to read the data and even slower to write it though.
Isn't that how it is with all Storage technology in the beginning though? I'm assuming if you're this to be a viable commercial product they have plans to increase the read/write speed and density.
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#13
GlacierNine
Hardware Geek
Isn't that how it is with all Storage technology in the beginning though? I'm assuming if you're this to be a viable commercial product they have plans to increase the read/write speed and density.
You have to bear in mind that this isn't intended to replace hard drives or SSDs, its intended to replace tape drives and other forms of permanent storage where read/write speed is essentially unimportant compared to how long the data remains readable and in what quantity.

7.5x7.5x0.2 for 75.6GB of Data is 6.72GB/cm3, and it's being implied (Though not outright stated) here that these things will last for centuries.

Compare that to an IBM "Advanced Data Cartridge", which is 4TB native capacity, but 2.45 x 10.9 x 12.5cm, so 11.982GB/cm3 and has a lifespan of 30 years.

The tradeoff here is that you archive once, you store it forever. It costs more per glass piece, and you need twice as many, but if you're worried about the manpower and maintenance problems involved in re-archiving 30 years of data originally stored via a tape solution, this could massively reduce your operational cost while improving reliability and robustness of your backups.
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#14
eidairaman1
The Exiled Airman
GlacierNine
you have to bear in mind that this isn't intended to replace hard drives or SSDs, its intended to replace tape drives and other forms of permanent storage where read/write speed is essentially unimportant compared to how long the data remains readable and in what quantity. This technology already seems to be capable of similar density judging by the photos, and it claims to be many times more robust. The question here isn't "why this?". Its more "does it deliver what it promises?"
A glass CD lol
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#15
TheLostSwede
Hardware Geek
Isn't that how it is with all Storage technology in the beginning though? I'm assuming if you're this to be a viable commercial product they have plans to increase the read/write speed and density.
I guess so, yes. Just looking at something "ancient" like optical media. My first optical drive, a 2.4x Sony, couldn't even read audio CDs with multi-media content on them fast enough...

On the other hand, I very much doubt this will be consumer tech any time soon, as it's a type of WORM drive.
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#16
GlacierNine
eidairaman1
A glass CD lol
I actually take issue with their CD comparison, since CD Rot is a relatively common problem and will kill a CD within a matter of a couple of decades. Claiming CDs last centuries is pretty optimistic in my opinion.
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#18
Arjai
Gamers Nexus has been covertly coding paper weights for over a year. :laugh:

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#19
Kinestron
GlacierNine
I actually take issue with their CD comparison, since CD Rot is a relatively common problem and will kill a CD within a matter of a couple of decades. Claiming CDs last centuries is pretty optimistic in my opinion.
I was thinking the same thing.
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#20
Nordic
Microsoft will work with Warner Bros to eventually copy its vast asset library spanning hundreds of films across thousands of film reels, onto the new media.
That sounds like a massive vote of confidence in this tech.
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#21
Jozsef Dornyei
This technology will come down to mainstream and everyone will be buying it is it is that useful.
I would buy it immediately once it is available for a reasonable amount of money.

Today I use multiple HDDs to store my family pictures and videos. They need to be maintained as HDDs eventually die.
This technology would solve the issue.

Companies would use it for weekly backup.

If they can manufacture it in quantity every PC will have it.
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#22
GlacierNine
Jozsef Dornyei
This technology will come down to mainstream and everyone will be buying it is it is that useful.
I would buy it immediately once it is available for a reasonable amount of money.

Today I use multiple HDDs to store my family pictures and videos. They need to be maintained as HDDs eventually die.
This technology would solve the issue.

Companies would use it for weekly backup.

If they can manufacture it in quantity every PC will have it.
None of these usecases make sense. This isn't intended for weekly backups or consumer use. It's intended for long term cold-storage of data that will *never* be modified or added to, only archived and accessed on rare occasion.
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#23
hurakura
so this is WORM type of storage, mainly for backup and maybe blu-ray replacement.
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#24
Readlight
I wonder what caind of informatin i would be posible to retrieve if i would be posible to backup all reinstaleed operating systems 20 years ago. acoints, paswors files.
No place for everyithing.
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#25
Tartaros
32bit 192KHz crystal disks for you, dirty and overincomed audiophiles.

GlacierNine
I actually take issue with their CD comparison, since CD Rot is a relatively common problem and will kill a CD within a matter of a couple of decades. Claiming CDs last centuries is pretty optimistic in my opinion.
Laserdisc rot is a legitimate concern since some were sloppily made. I think CDs and later formats are still better.
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