Microsoft Project Silica quartz glass storage passes milestone - Storage

Yolanda Curtis
November 6, 2019

On partnership with Warner Bros, Microsoft revealed the studio had approached the company to leverage new technology to secure its vast library of movies including radio shows, animated shorts and sitcoms among others.

Sliding a little under the radar, perhaps, was an update on Project Silica, a collaborative endeavour between Microsoft and Warner Bros. A laser encodes data in glass by creating layers of 3D nanoscale gratings at multiple depths and angles. "We are building storage that operates at the cloud scale", said Ant Rowstron, partner deputy lab director of Microsoft Research Cambridge in the United Kingdom, which collaborated with University of Southampton to develop Project Silica.


The glass medium offers superior durability as quartz is proven to remain intact even after it gets boiled in water, exposed to high microwave heat, scoured or demagnetized. It also has its own digital archives that are subject to content migration every three years to avoid any degradation issues.

Using the example of storing the entire Superman movie on a piece of glass no thicker than a quarter, Nadella highlights the potential of Project Silica's ability to massively reduce the amount of space apps, or services could take in the future.


Microsoft says Warner Bros. initially approached them to come up with new technologies to effectively store its library of films in a non-destructive way.

"When we shoot something digitally - with zeros and ones representing the pixels on the screen - and print that to an analog medium like film, you destroy the original pixel values. We are building storage that operates at the cloud scale", said Ant Rowstron, partner deputy lab director of Microsoft Research Cambridge in the United Kingdom, which worked with the University of Southampton on Project Silica. "That's what I love about this", said Brad Collar, Warner Bros. senior vice president of global archives and media engineering. Combine it with the high costs of creating archival film negatives for all digitally shot TV content, Project Silica could potentially become a cheaper, higher-quality replacement for creating physical archives. Another advantage over the current tape medium is the ease of data retrieval, which is made possible by machine learning algorithms that very quickly read the needed data cluster. Microsoft used 74 such layers to capture "Superman" in glass, but has since advanced the technology to add many more layers.


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