What Is The Next Generation Of Data Backup?
Why do we need to reconsider current data storage technology?
Data is now the common denominator that sits across everything organisations do. Whether it’s driving the day-to-day activities we all take for granted or providing new insights that shape our thinking around some of humanity’s biggest questions, data augments and empowers human intelligence.
The staggering amount of data we’re generating is already causing challenges, with data centre technologies requiring significant power and cooling, as well as ongoing maintenance and monitoring. We could be moving towards a huge bottleneck in the capabilities that are available as both the volumes and speed of access to data increase further. What’s more, hardware such as servers, hard drives and flash storage can degrade.
And with around 40 per cent of the world’s population still to be connected online, the amount of data we’ll need to store and manage will skyrocket further.
Is there an alternative?
Yes, nature has a solution – DNA-based data storage. DNA has an unbeatable track record when it comes to preserving and archiving vital information. Being ultra-compact and easy to replicate – thanks to its primary role in creating life – gives DNA two big advantages. One gram of DNA could potentially hold as much as 455 exabytes of data, according to the New Scientist. That’s more than all the digital data currently in the world. While DNA is itself quite fragile, it can be incredibly stable when stored in the right conditions. The longevity of cassettes and CDs just doesn’t compare. So, from an archiving and backup perspective, DNA could be the perfect material.
When will this technology be available?
Progress on the technology has been extremely promising. Last year, researchers from Microsoft and the University of Washington developed the world’s first DNA storage device that can carry out the entire process automatically. Using the device, researchers encoded the word “hello” on to DNA and were able to convert it back to data readable by a computer.
But, the time and cost of decoding the information needs to come down before DNA data storage can be used commercially. For example, it took 21 hours for that 5-byte “hello” message to be written and then read back.
What other storage options are available?
Glass is being researched as a data storage medium of the future. Microsoft’s Project Silica, for example, is a proof of concept that uses quartz glass as a storage medium. Lasers permanently change the structure of glass making it possible to store data that can then be read by machine-learning algorithms. By taking up a fraction of the space, and not requiring the climate-controlled storage or other regular maintenance of typical storage mediums, it holds immense promise for archiving and backup activity.