Microsoft develops ultra-durable quartz glass data storage system

Ruben Fields
November 6, 2019

All these types of storage media are readily available for consumers, yet they are not the best options as far as archiving digital data is concerned.

The company continued to bet big on hybrid cloud with the announcement of Azure Arc, which will let enterprises use Microsoft Azure to manage resources across its competitors' clouds; launched Project Cortex, an AI-driven knowledge network that is the company's first commercial tool since Microsoft Teams; big updates to virtual assistant, Cortana; and more.

Warner Bros. and Microsoft have joined forces to archive a copy of "Superman: The Movie" on a small glass disc as a first test case for a new storage technology.

The quartz glass square, which can withstand being boiled in hot water, baked in an oven, microwaved, flooded, scoured, demagnetised and other environmental threats, contains 75.6GB of data. In the 1940s, Superman radio serials were recorded and Warner Bros. archivists recently discovered they had been stored on record-sized pieces of glass, with the bonus being they still play today! CTO Vicky Colf said, "That had always been our beacon of hope for what we believed would be possible one day, so when we learned that Microsoft had developed this glass-based technology, we wanted to prove it out".

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It's no coincidence that a movie was chosen for the demo - media is one of those things that we can't risk fading like an overplayed VHS tape. It uses femtosecond lasers (ultrafast and short lasers used in LASIK surgeries) to encode data in a multidimensional space and takes advantage of new machine learning algorithms. "When we shoot something digitally - with zeros and ones representing the pixels on the screen - and print that to an analog medium called film, you destroy the original pixel values".

The movie is stored by encoding the data with an infrared laser and creating "layers of three-dimensional nanoscale gratings and deformations at various depths and angles". But there is a lot more work ahead to meet WB's goal of owning its own infrastructure to read data from glass archives. Combine it with the high costs of creating archival film negatives for all digitally shot TV content, Project Silica could potentially become a cheaper, higher-quality replacement for creating physical archives.

If you want to store data securely for a very long time, what storage medium do you choose?

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