Microsoft teams up with Warner Bros. to store Superman on new glass storage

Microsoft has created a proof of concept for storing data on glass. The software maker has teamed up with Warner Bros. to store an entire copy of the original 1978 Superman movie on glass that’s the size of a coaster (75 x 75 x 2 mm). Microsoft Research is at the heart of this new glass storage, and it’s part of a big investment from Microsoft to develop storage tech built for the future of its Azure platform.

“We built this entire system that’s essentially a new cold storage system,” revealed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella onstage at the company’s Ignite conference today. Microsoft is using regular quartz glass, and the company has boiled, baked, and scratched it to test its resilience. The research project, Project Silica, is designed for storing and preserving data.

Project Silica.

It’s a challenge that has plagued storage for decades. Photos fade over time, books rot, and even CDs and hard drives aren’t the best places to store our digital memories. Researches have been trying to tackle this problem for at least five years, and Microsoft certainly isn’t the first to develop glass disc storage.

Microsoft’s backing does mean that companies might take this new storage seriously. Warner Bros. got involved with Project Silica as a method to store digital assets permanently and provide durable backups. The entertainment company currently creates an archive copy by converting a digital copy back to analog film and splitting it into three color components to transfer each onto black-and-white film negatives that don’t fade like color film does.

‘Superman’ stored on glass.

That’s an expensive and complex process, and Microsoft researchers are trying to speed the process up and reduce the costs involved. “If Project Silica’s storage solution proves to be as cost-effective and as scalable as it could be — and we all recognize it’s still early days — this is something we’d love to see adopted by other studios and our peers and other industries,” says Vicky Colf, Warner Bros. chief technology officer. “If it works for us, we firmly believe that this will be a benefit to anyone who wants to preserve and archive content.”

Microsoft is using infrared lasers to encode the data into “voxels,” a three-dimensional equivalent to the pixels we’re used to seeing on screens. The data is stored within the glass, and machine learning algorithms can decode the patterns to read the data back. Microsoft is still developing this technology, and the company has released new research papers on Project Silica today. If Microsoft has its way, we’ll all be storing our precious digital data on glass, and data centers will be processing petabytes of data under the sea in the future.

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