Microsoft has made a significant breakthrough in using synthetic DNA for data storage. The company is currently working with the University of Washington’s Molecular Information Systems Laboratory, or MISL. In their research paper, Microsoft announced their first nanoscale DNA storage writer.
Why is ‘Microsoft using DNA as a data storage’ such a big deal?
Our data requirements are increasing, with 2.5 million gigabytes of data generated each day. Considering how that number rises every year, it is outpacing our ability to store data. It won’t be long before we run out of options to store data over long periods.
For context, storing data over long periods isn’t as easy as it looks. Data loss occurs on tape within 30 years and sooner on SSDs and HDDs. In comparison, data stored on DNA can last for thousands of years, not to mention the amount of data stored.
The International Data Corporation predicts data storage demand will reach nine zettabytes by 2024.
Pros and cons of DNA storage
DNA is said to have a density capable of storing one exabyte (1 billion gigabytes) per square inch. This is way larger than the current best storage method: Linear Type-Open (LTO) magnetic tape. However, the practical application of this Microsoft DNA storage is still quite far.
This is mainly due to the high cost of storing data on DNA. It can cost upwards of thousands of dollars to write a few megabytes. Not to mention the technical complexities and the slow writing speed. As you can see, this technology is still in need of development.
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Microsoft’s DNA writer can write a density of 25 x 10^6 sequences per square centimeter, or “three orders of magnitude” (1,000x) more tightly than before. This is still far from the desired speed, but it is the first indication of achieving the minimum write speeds required for DNA storage.