Microsoft’s proof-of-concept “Project Silica” stores Warner Brothers’ original Superman movie on a piece of quartz glass measuring 75x75x2 millimeters thick. It is estimated that more than 100 Zettabytes of data will be stored in the cloud by 2023 (from a data volume standpoint one Zettabyte represents as much information as there are grains of sand on all the world’s beaches). As data proliferates, new means of data storage must be invented.
The Superman project marked the first proof-of-concept test for Project Silica – a Microsoft Research project in collaboration with the University of Southampton – that leverages laser optics and Machine Learning to store data in quartz glass. Data is embedded in quartz glass using lasers that create layers of three-dimensional, nanoscale markings at various depths and angles. Machine learning algorithms read the data by decoding images and patterns created when light shines through the quartz glass. Project Silica is part of a broader Microsoft Research effort called Optics for the Cloud where Microsoft Research and a number of universities are collaborating to enable the adoption of optical technologies in cloud computing. Project Silica and Project Natick (underwater storage) are examples of investments made by Microsoft Azure to create new storage systems designed from scratch that are purpose-built for cloud computing.
We would expect for Microsoft (tkr: MSFT), Amazon’s (tkr: AMZN) AWS unit and Google (tkr: GOOG), to be at the forefront of innovating the next generation of mass storage systems given the amount of data each company stores. Facebook (tkr: FB), would round out the Four Horsemen.