Archives & Manuscripts

Innovations in Data Storage

Response to article and project website

“Microsoft Research partnered with Warner Bros. to save the original 1978 “Superman” movie on a small piece of quartz glass. 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.” (Microsoft Photo / Jonathan Banks) from GeekWire article

“Look! Up in the sky!”
“It’s a bird!”
“It’s a plane!”
“It’s… the future of data storage?”

As part of its research and development in data and cloud storage, Microsoft encoded Warner Bros.’ 1978 Superman onto a 75x75x2mm square of quartz glass. Etched with the same lasers used in LASIK surgeries, the glass square is remarkably resilient, able to withstand wear and tear, flood, fire, and extreme temperatures. It doesn’t require a climate controlled storage environment, it cuts storage space requirements, in some cases by orders of magnitude. One source suggests data stored in this form would maintain its integrity for ten thousand years.

What I had trouble uncovering were the potential downsides. From what I gleaned from comments sections and responses, the biggest downside at the moment is write time. It takes a long time to encode the data with the lasers, and retrieval/read time is also quite long. That makes this format useful for long-term storage and cold/deep storage, but less useful at this stage for short-term storage or frequently accessed material.

I don’t know enough about the optics/computer science side of this technology, but it seems to me that if we could speed up the write/read speed and made it more accessible, we could save a lot of time, space, and carbon emissions by moving some archival material onto storage like this.

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