Microsoft Research holographic storage could be the cloud’s future

In addition to living in a digital age, our lives have also started to revolve around clouds, that is, cloud storage and services. This elusive and ephemeral concept, however, still needs to be tethered to physical realities and limited by physical storage solutions. In other words, that fancy cloud storage you’re using to collaborate and store your files ultimately gets stored in the old but proven technology of hard disk drives. That, however, is far from ideal and Microsoft researchers are looking into an old yet new idea of using holograms to store data in a much smaller physical space.

The idea of holographic storage isn’t exactly a new one but the time for it to take root may finally be here. The ubiquity of cloud storage has created a particular need for “hot storage”, storage that can give fast access to data, in large amounts that would be too expensive for flash storage. That is why, despite their inherent slowness, hard drives with mechanical parts and magnetic disks remain the storage of choice for cloud storage and services.

Holograms, however, could potentially solve all those problems and may come with an extra perk for this particular use case. Holographic storage can cram large amounts of data into small areas of crystal by simply changing the angle of the light being shone on it. Unlike the Microsoft Research’s glass-based Project Silica, this Holographic Storage Data or HSD is erasable with a UV light and, therefore, re-writable, pretty much like a regular HDD or SSD.

While the crystal for holographic storage itself can be small, the equipment needed to read and write into them isn’t. But while that is a stumbling block for consumer devices, cloud storage already makes use of large racks to hold hard drives so it isn’t exactly a big problem. In fact, HSD equipment could turn out to be even more compact, allowing data storage manufacturers to cram more capacity in the same space as a regular rack.

Of course, all of these are pretty much still in the research stage so it’s unlikely to revolutionize cloud storage any time soon. Microsoft Research still has a lot of work to do, like improving data access rate without mechanical movement, but it’s confident that Microsoft’s expertise in AI can help move that forward.

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