Microsoft’s Project Silica offers robust thousand-year storage

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Enlarge / Microsoft Research stored a 75.6GB digital copy of the 1978 movie "Superman" in this small (7.5cm x 7.5cm x 2mm) piece of glass for Warner Bros. (credit: Jonathan Banks / Microsoft)

Ars spoke Tuesday with Dr. Ant Rowstron, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, about an innovative cold storage project called Silica. Silica aims to replace both tape and optical archival discs as the media of choice for large-scale, (very) long duration cold storage. Microsoft Research is partnering with film giant Warner Bros., which is directly interested in reducing costs and increasing reliability in its own cold storage programs.
The medium in question is a block of high-purity glass, which has voxels etched into it with femtosecond lasers. Each voxel stores multiple bits in two properties, retardance and angle, which may in turn be read using microscope imaging and polarized light. Voxels may be written 100 or more layers deep in a 2mm-deep piece of glass, by focusing the laser to the desired depth within the block itself.
The speed of both reads and writes to Silica currently leave something to be desired—it took approximately a week to etch Superman's roughly 76GB of data last year, and Rowstron estimates it would take about three days to re-read the data, with advances made since. The technology is still in its infancy, of course, and large decreases in time required for both writing and reading are expected moving forward. Rowstron says he still doesn't expect anyone is likely to try to actually play Superman directly from its Silica record—but that's not what it's intended for.

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