Microsoft bets big with DNA storage

the Microsoft logo in front of two DNA strands

Posted on Thursday, April 27, 2017

Microsoft’s interest in DNA as a storage medium is showing no signs of cooling after confirming an order for a further 10 million strands for testing. Clearly experiments with the DNA Fountain have proven to be sufficiently impressive to continue research.

Microsoft doubles down

In April 2016, Microsoft signed an initial agreement for 10 million strands of synthetic DNA for testing. Within three months they had successfully encoded 200MB of data using DNA – and retrieved it with 100 percent accuracy.

News that Microsoft had ordered another 10 million strands from Twist Bioscience indicate continued belief that DNA is a viable storage medium for the future. But why?

Why choose DNA for storage?

DNA may be too expensive – and experimental – for enterprise deployments, but there are several reasons to keep an eye on what Microsoft is trying to achieve.

1. Reduced energy consumption

Although there is business value in keeping archive data on-line, there is also an ongoing cost in the form of energy usage. Synthetic DNA requires very little energy at rest – significantly less than current archive technologies.

2. Increased storage density

Studies by the New York Genome Center found that a few grams of DNA is capable of storing one exabyte of digital data. Researchers hope to be able to store one zettabyte in the space equivalent to one teaspoon.

3. Reduced risk of obsolescence

Current archiving strategies tend to revolve around moving data from disk to tape to more dense tape as LTO and equivalent technologies develop. As a biological entity (and with such impressive density), there is no risk of DNA becoming obsolete – at least in the foreseeable future.

What next?

Having proven that DNA can hold information with 100 percent accuracy, it is little surprise that Microsoft continue to investigate it as a storage medium. Over the next year we expect to see researchers boost capacity and hopefully reduce the cost of using DNA.

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