A conversation with the researcher who put a movie on a piece of glass with Project Silica

A conversation with the researcher who put a movie on a piece of glass with Project Silica


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One of many highlights of Satya Nadella’s imaginative and prescient keynote on the Microsoft Ignite 2019 final week was Project Silica the place he held out a drink coaster-sized piece of normal quartz glass and shared that the piece of glass had the 1978 “Superman” film saved on the identical.

Microsoft collaborated with Warner Bros. to successfully store and retrieve the entire movie as the first proof of concept test for Project Silica, a Microsoft Analysis venture that makes use of current discoveries in ultrafast laser optics and synthetic intelligence to retailer knowledge in quartz glass.

A laser encodes knowledge in glass by creating layers of three-dimensional nanoscale gratings and deformations at numerous depths and angles. Machine studying algorithms learn the info again by decoding photographs and patterns which might be created as polarized mild shines by means of the glass.

At Ignite in Orlando, FL, I sat down with an excited Dr. Ant Rowstron, companion deputy lab director of Microsoft Analysis Cambridge within the UK to study extra about this fascinating analysis challenge.

Virtually with childlike enthusiasm, Ant additionally confirmed me one other piece of glass, virtually stamp-sized, that had Home windows 10 ISO loaded on it.

A bit of glass loaded with Home windows 10 ISO – Challenge Silica

Why did you select glass?

So, I feel there are a number of causes. First off, it’s a sturdy media, and it’s obtained a really lengthy lifetime. So, the info that we’ve obtained written in right here gained’t get any decay, and will probably be good for, you understand, tens of hundreds, even tons of of hundreds of years.

You bought your archive knowledge, which is simply chilly. Immediately we’re utilizing onerous disk drives or tape to retailer that. With onerous disk drive, you’re fortunate to get 5 years from it. Not for much longer. A tape, you’re going to get ten years. I feel ten is the higher sure; some individuals use it for 5 years and even much less.

And then you definitely received the issue of getting to repeat it and replica it and replica it. With this know-how, you possibly can simply actually write to it, after which hold it.

The opposite factor is admittedly that it doesn’t matter concerning the humidity, it doesn’t matter concerning the temperature. We don’t have to create a particular surroundings for it. We will actually put it on a shelf and depart it there for years.

I imply every little thing else it's a must to fear concerning the setting. And that drives the price up, so in a way, I see this virtually like perpetually storage. As soon as I’ve written it, it’s simply going to take a seat there and it’s principally gonna value me nothing to maintain it as a result of I don’t have to do something to it; it’s not having to be actively managed.

It doesn’t matter… within the worst case, you must clear it. I imply, I stroll round with a little bit of this and also you get mud throughout it… the fingerprint is a basic, you understand. Simply give it a bit of little bit of alcohol rub, and it’s able to roll.

Dr. Ant Rowstron, Associate Deputy Lab Director, Microsoft Analysis Cambridge

Why is that this an answer for cloud storage wants and never an alternative choice to common media?

So, I feel, the size is actually essential. At Microsoft, you’re interested by the size of the cloud, and that drives the options we provide you with. We’re in a world the place exabytes is the norm… zettabytes. In a way, we’re feeling the ache.

You take a look at the prevailing incumbent issues, they usually’ve all obtained issues and compromises they usually’ve received issues that are onerous to engineer about.

We labored on a challenge referred to as Pelican which was taking a look at tips on how to construct hard-disk based mostly archival storage. And we spent years, taking each cent we might add to get probably the most environment friendly hard-disk based mostly storage for the cloud.

And we realized that you simply come to the stage the place you’re simply hitting the obstacles based mostly on what a disc is or what tape is and also you simply can’t, you possibly can’t break it open and go inside however but you see the issues that it’s inflicting. In order that was the kind of motivation for us to go off and consider what the best know-how can be.

Do you envision this know-how getting used for a mass-market storage answer sooner or later?

I’m on the analysis aspect so I can’t actually speak about what the enterprise mannequin might be sooner or later. What I can say is that the know-how is prepared for that.

It wouldn’t be the best way that you simply get films… I hope it gained’t be. You gained’t eliminate your PC, it gained’t. I don’t assume we’ll ever get there. However when you spend tens of millions of dollars on your group’s archival knowledge, I feel we’ll get to the stage the place it’s fairly possible for it for use by them.

What’s subsequent?

We’re going to overcome the world… it’s going to be the brand new media. (laughs)

No, I imply, I actually would adore it to get to the stage the place I feel two issues. One is that we discover a variety of issues that we simply actually care about and need to retailer for a very long time, kind of archival stuff which is simply actually essential. And I’d like to see that on glass and utilizing the properties of glass.

The opposite factor is, I’d like to see it simply exchange tape. And I simply assume we will make it, you realize, the know-how which is best than the incumbent. Tapes have been there for therefore a few years and in some sense such a compromise.

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