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Microsoft's exploring holographic storage devices for its cloud. What does it mean?

10th October, 2020 Science and Technology

Context: Microsoft that it is exploring feasibility of holographic storage devices for the cloud.

  • The concept of holographic storage dates back to the 1960’s, when laser was invented.
  • It is a method of recording data in the form of holograms (three-dimensional images) inside an object by using light.

Cloud storage and challenges

  • According to the US-based company, about 125 zettabytes of data will be generated annually by 2024, and storing this in a cost-effective way is going to be a big challenge.
    • A zettabyte is about one trillion gigabytes.
  • Conventional cloud storage systems use a mix of hard disk drives (HDDs) and flash storage (also used in USB drives) for storing and retrieving data.
  • The mechanical parts and magnetic disks on HDDs present some challenges in the long-run like slower data transfer speeds.
  • While flash storage is capable of faster data transfer, it is considerably expensive than HDDs.

How does holographic storage work?

  • Holographic storage uses green lasers to write data pages containing hundreds of kilobytes of data in the form of a hologram inside a holographic crystal, which in this case is lithium niobate.
  • There are two laser beams, one projects the data encoded in an image, and another, known as the reference beam, meets the first beam inside the holographic crystal, creating a hologram.
  • The data pages can be read by shining the reference laser beam at an angle off the recorded hologram, capturing this on a camera and extracting the image, which is then processed using software to access the data.
  • The holograms containing data can be erased with UV light, making the storage media rewritable. Holographic storage also allows multiple channels of read and write, simultaneously.
  • Advantage quantum system has more than 5000 qubits, and 15-way qubit connectivity.
  • Its expanded hybrid solver service can run problems with up to one million variables. Picture by special arrangement.
  • These holograms occupy a small area or volume within the crystal, and multiple data pages can be written or accessed in a particular volume just by changing the angle of light.
  • While, in case of HDDs, it would require the movement of the entire mechanical drive to write or access even a small amount of data.
  • As a result, the data can be accessed at much higher speeds in holographic storage, potentially offering increased access rates because of lower time delays.
  • Microsoft claims, using high-resolution camera components and AI has enabled it to increase the storage density by 1.8x over the state-of-the-art volumetric holographic storage.

Design and future

  • The devices will be designed to fit in the storage racks used in cloud storage, allowing the team to design the new hardware at “rack scale.”
  • Further, holographic storage can store information in a three-dimensional (3D) space, unlike other storage options like HDDs and flash storage, which use a two-dimensional (2D) space, allowing data to be stored more densely.
  • So, more data can be stored in holographic storage in the same space compared with HDDs.
  • The practical use of the storage technology for the cloud in the future would involve developing methods that will allow for the scaling of the storage capacity by increasing the number of partitions inside the device while maintaining the same access rates across multiple partitions.