Microsoft Wants to Store Data on Glass

Project Silica plans to store terabytes of data on glass chips the size of drinks coasters

Ben Wodecki, Jr. Editor

October 20, 2023

2 Min Read
A glass chip from Project Silica. This chip holds Microsoft Flight Simulator and was shown off at Microsoft Build 2023.
A glass chip from Project Silica. This chip holds Microsoft Flight Simulator and was shown off at Microsoft Build 2023.Microsoft

At a Glance

  • Microsoft is exploring long-term ways to store data more sustainably – using glass.

After years under development, Microsoft is inching closer to rolling out a technology that stores data onto glass plates the size of a drinks coaster as a way to make its data centers more sustainable.

Microsoft Research and Microsoft Azure, its cloud division, are partnering on Project Silica, which aims to transition to glass data storage from magnetic storage. Using glass could allow Microsoft to store data for potentially thousands of years, compared to traditional magnetic storage such as a hard disk or tape, which has a limited lifespan of anywhere between five to 10 years. That means the data has to be copied over to new storage and so on. Microsoft said this is not good for the planet, given the amount of data that is being produced daily.

Glass is much more sustainable since it lasts a lot longer. Each glass plate can hold several terabytes of data, enough space to store 1.75 million songs or 13 years worth of music. Once written, the data inside the glass is impossible to change. The glass plates can even withstand fire.

Azure owns many data centers for its cloud computing business and could benefit from data stored in glass. Data stored in glass require a fraction of the space now used for magnetic storage, the company said.

While glass storage is not yet ready to be rolled out, it is a promising sustainable solution since it is durable and cost-effective, according to Microsoft. The initial embedding onto glass is the most expensive part of the process. Afterwards, ongoing maintenance costs are "minimal," the company said. The glass storage is kept in a library that does need any electricity. Robots climb the shelves to retrieve the glass storage when needed.

How does it work?

“Data is stored in glass via a four-step process: writing with an ultrafast femtosecond laser, reading through a computer-controlled microscope, decoding, and finally, storing in a library," said Richard Black, research director of Project Silica, in a blog post.

Initially, Microsoft found glass storage processes inefficient due to issues with laser writing. But having refined the process, the company is now able to store several terabytes in a single glass plate that could last 10,000 years. Each plate could store around 3,500 movies or play enough movies non-stop for over half a year without repeating.

Using glass for storage is not a novel concept. It dates back to the 19th century when photo negatives were stored on glass plates, according to the company. Glass plates were less likely to bend compared to film. However, the practice of using glass to store photo negatives disappeared in the early 20th century as less fragile methods of storage were increasingly adopted.

About the Author(s)

Ben Wodecki

Jr. Editor

Ben Wodecki is the Jr. Editor of AI Business, covering a wide range of AI content. Ben joined the team in March 2021 as assistant editor and was promoted to Jr. Editor. He has written for The New Statesman, Intellectual Property Magazine, and The Telegraph India, among others. He holds an MSc in Digital Journalism from Middlesex University.

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