The Future of Storage isn’t Magnetic or Flash – it’s Organic!

Double helix graphic depicting DNA on purple background

Posted on Thursday, May 12, 2016

Regular breakthroughs in technology are helping to develop ever increasing storage capacities using traditional spinning disk and flash memory units. The recent announcement of 15TB hard drives from Samsung has provided some hope for CTOs struggling to meet the storage demands of their organization for instance.

But with the IoT revolution about to explode, simply throwing more disks into the datacenter will probably not deliver the long term solution required – if only for the amount of physical space these units require. Which is why Microsoft is investigating technologies that will eventually replace flash and magnetic disk arrays.

Is genetic code the answer?

Scientists have always suspected that DNA – the basic building block of all life – was capable of storing vast amounts of data. And back in 1990 the Human Genome Project proved this to be the case. It is believed that one gram of DNA can store 1 billion terabytes of data.

Fast forward 25 years and advances in genetic sequencing means that scientists are now able to build custom strands of DNA that encode digital data. Microsoft has recently ordered 10 million custom synthetic DNA strands to test the viability of the medium.

Initial tests have been hugely positive with data being 100% writable and readable. And early indications are that the durable nature of DNA means that the data could survive undamaged for thousands of years.

Slow and very expensive

DNA data storage is still in the early experimental stages. To encode data, it must first be transported to a lab and sequenced into the custom DNA strands. Reading the data also requires costly DNA sequencing hardware, and is relatively slow and laborious. Clearly DNA data storage is nowhere near ready for mainstream use, nor for anything other than long term archive data storage.

So although the future of data storage may be organic, businesses will be using spinning disk arrays for the foreseeable future. Microsoft’s foray into DNA does reveal one thing however – speed of data retrieval is of less importance for archived information, than the ability to recover it.

For many businesses, shifting archive data to older, slower, post-warranty hardware is less of a problem than they probably expect. Using the cascade principle, post-warranty hardware can be used to replace the oldest in-house systems, boosting overall performance slightly and increasing capacity. And because availability matters more than speed for archive purposes, recycling assets in this way makes excellent financial and operational sense.

To learn more about cascading post-warranty hardware redeployments, get in touch with the team to discuss your specific project needs.