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Microsoft Has a Plan to Add DNA Data Storage to Its Cloud

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Jim K    14,945

Microsoft Has a Plan to Add DNA Data Storage to Its Cloud


Based on early research involving the storage of movies and documents in DNA, Microsoft is developing an apparatus that uses biology to replace tape drives, researchers at the company say.


Computer architects at Microsoft Research say the company has formalized a goal of having an operational storage system based on DNA working inside a data center toward the end of this decade. The aim is a “proto-commercial system in three years storing some amount of data on DNA in one of our data centers, for at least a boutique application,” says Doug Carmean, a partner architect at Microsoft Research. He describes the eventual device as the size of a large, 1970s-era Xerox copier.


Internally, Microsoft harbors the even more ambitious goal of replacing tape drives, a common format used for archiving information. “We hope to get it branded as ‘Your Storage with DNA,’” says Carmean.


The plans signal how seriously some tech companies are taking the seemingly strange idea of saving videos, photos, or valuable documents in the same molecule our genes are made of. The reason, says Victor Zhirnov, chief scientist of the Semiconductor Research Corporation, is that efforts to shrink computer memory are hitting physical limits, but DNA can store data at incredible densities.


Formatted in DNA, every movie ever made would fit inside a volume smaller than a sugar cube. 




But its most important feature is density. DNA can hold 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (aka a quintillion) bytes of information in a cubic millimeter. “Density is driving everything,” says Zhirnov.


A spokesperson for Microsoft Research said the company could not confirm “specifics on a product plan” at this time. Inside the company, the DNA storage idea is apparently gaining adherents but is not yet universally accepted. “Our internal people believe us, but not the tape storage people,” says Carmean, formerly a top chip designer at Intel.  


In addition to being dense and durable, DNA has a further advantage that’s not often mentioned—its extreme relevance to the human species. Think of those old floppy disks you can’t read anymore or clay tablets with indecipherable hieroglyphs. Unlike such media, DNA probably won’t ever go out of style.


“We’ll always be reading DNA as long as we are human,” says Carmean.


Full article at MIT Technology Review

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