Stockage sur verre : l’archivage écolo et inaltérable


The demand for data storage continues to grow exponentially. But most data is considered “cold” after a few months, because it is rarely accessed after that. Hence the need to migrate to a storage solution that is both durable and ecological.

Microsoft and the German start-up Cerabyte are working on technology to replace archives on tape that could result in a deliverable product within five years. This storage medium would be intended to be installed in data centers.

Microsoft released an academic document of 16 pages, presented at the 29th ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) Symposium on Principles of Operating Systems. The publisher is working on the development of durable and highly efficient storage systems (what we call the archiving of these famous “cold” data).

This project, called Silica, is not really new since the company has been working on it for years and had even presented a prototype from 2019, touting the benefits of its WORM (Write Once Read Many) support “inexpensive and durable, resistant to electromagnetic fields and offering lifespans of tens or even hundreds of thousands of years”.

“Silica’s hardware and software have been jointly designed and optimized, from support to service level, with sustainability as the main objective”specify the authors of the document published by Microsoft.

Cost reduction of 75%

The Silica project has, it seems, evolved since Microsoft approached Cerabyte, which is developing a storage medium based on ceramic. Ceramic nanomemory offers an ideal solution for archiving “cold” data. They are permanently stored in ceramic nanolayers, which reduces the total cost ownership of 75% and energy consumption and CO emissions2 99% according to the German start-up.

But the two projects diverge on a few points. Cerabyte uses femtosecond laser pulses (ultra-short pulses), used in particular in research, in industry and in the field of biomedical applications. They make it possible to create physical changes in a ceramic coating on square glass plates. The changes are nanoscale holes, like a high-tech punch card.

As with Cerabyte, data is written onto a square glass plate using ultrafast femtosecond lasers through voxels, a “portmanteau word created by contracting “volume” and “pixel”, [et qui sont] to 3D what the pixel is to 2D »according to Wikipedia.

These are permanent changes to the physical structure of glass, which allow multiple bits of data to be written in layers on the glass surface. These layers are then stacked vertically by the hundreds.

Each voxel encodes 3 to 4 bits of data. The voxels are written side by side in 2D layers on the XY plane of the board. They are organized into rectangular sectors, a 2D group of more than 100,000 voxels in an XY plane, or approximately 100 KB of data. A set of 3D sectors is called a track and there can be several TB of data per platter.

However, Cerabyte’s holes are generated as part of QR codes, while Project Silica’s voxels are dropped onto tracks. Its plates are placed on a platform that moves left to right and back and forth under read and write head devices (lasers and polarization microscopes). On the other hand, Cerabyte’s glass media only moves back and forth and is a single layer media.

Both Cerabyte and Microsoft are considering library shelving to hold data storage media. For Cerabyte, these would be cartridges containing glass media. Microsoft would opt for raw quartz glass slabs.

This library has a robotic transfer system made up of several independent, battery-powered picker robots (shuttles). A small swarm of sorts that is able to move vertically up and down between several horizontal rails running across the library shelves to the reading and writing shelves. A video demonstrates this.

The Microsoft document concludes: “The unique properties of the glass support and the joint design of the hardware and software, with a “cloud first” perspective (all processes and infrastructures are in the cloud and no longer locally in the company, Editor’s note), enable Silica to be fundamentally more durable and achieve significantly lower data archiving costs than magnetic tapes. »


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