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Can we preserve data sustainability?

Is it possible to design a sustainable data storage system? Traditional devices, such as hard disks and magnetic tapes, require frequent recopying and are characterized by a limited lifespan and an evident environmental cost. Increasing storage needs therefore promote the use of new materials, capable of overcoming the limitations of magnetic technology.
This is where the work of Project Silica, a cutting-edge initiative of Microsoft Research, fits in.

The potential of glass

The project focuses on the use of silica-based glass sheets to facilitate long-term data storage. To date, a coaster-sized sheet of glass is capable of “holding several terabytes of data, enough to store about 1.75 million songs” and preserving them for tens of thousands of years.
In fact, glass, an extremely durable material, offers an efficient, green and compact cloud storage space where information is transcribed in such a way that it is unchangeable.

Steps in the data storage process

Project Silica is partnering with the Microsoft Azure team to harness the potential of artificial intelligence to “decode data stored in glass, making it faster to read and write” and facilitating massive information storage.
But how is data stored in glass? Through a process consisting of four steps:

  • writing: pulses emitted by a laser change the glass, storing the data within it as voxels (three-dimensional pixels);
  • reading: data are decoded using a computer-controlled microscope;
  • decoding: the information stored inside the glass is processed in order to decipher its symbols;
  • storage in a library. The latter does not require electricity, since the complexity of that stage of the process lies entirely in the robots that move among the laboratory shelves to retrieve the required glass and bring it to the reader.

Thanks to glass, data centers will cease to be large infrastructures with high maintenance costs and will acquire a compact form, the synthesis of efficiency and sustainability.
To date, glass storage is still under development, but this technology lends itself to becoming one of the pillars of Azure in the world. According to researchers, this storage solution is ideal for libraries, state archives and other entities that need to freeze data over time, without changing it.

Learn more about Project Silica through the video released by Microsoft.


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Read also: Oxy-fuel technology: the sustainable path of the Italian glass supply chain is trained in Friuli
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