Microsoft successfully archives Warner Bros. 'Superman' movie on a piece of glass

Humza

TechSpot Staff
Staff member

A piece of silica glass measuring 7.5 cm x 7.5 cm x 2 mm was able to hold the entire Superman (1978) movie in the shape of three-dimensional nanoscale gratings and deformations as part of Project Silica led by Microsoft Research, resulting in 75.6 GB of data inside the durable quartz glass that's no bigger than a drink coaster.

Redmond's research arm worked with Warner Bros. to store data by encoding it with laser and then used machine learning algorithms to decode images and patterns created by polarizing light as it shone through the glass.

"Storing the whole ‘Superman’ movie in glass and being able to read it out successfully is a major milestone," said Mark Russinovich, Azure's CTO. For Microsoft, the project focuses on developing long-term storage technologies for the cloud to meet exponential growing needs and shifting away from traditional magnetic media in favor of more durable silica glass.

Project Silica's application of turning digital data into physical artifacts is what piqued the interest of Warner Bros., which currently uses reels of film in temperature and humidity-controlled cold storage vaults to preserve its iconic and vast library of movies and TV shows. It also has its own digital archives that are subject to content migration every three years to avoid any degradation issues.

The company had been in search of a long-term storage solution for archiving its assets, one that offers to store "cold" data — archival data that may have tremendous value or that companies are required to maintain — but that doesn’t need to be frequently accessed.

"That had always been our beacon of hope for what we believed would be possible one day, so when we learned that Microsoft had developed this glass-based technology, we wanted to prove it out," said Warner Bros. CTO Vicky Colf.

Unlike the company's current storage methods that require continuous maintenance and monitoring due to their fragility, the glass quartz used in Project Silica proved to be quite durable after it was baked, boiled, microwaved, flooded, demagnetized and scourged with steel wool, but reported no loss of data.

Its deployment in large-scale data centers could potentially lower the environmental footprint of such facilities as they won't need energy-intensive air conditioning or other systems to maintain air quality.

"We are not trying to build things that you put in your house or play movies from. We are building storage that operates at the cloud scale," said Ant Rowstron, partner deputy lab director of Microsoft Research Cambridge in the UK, which worked with the University of Southampton on Project Silica.

Using silica glass instead of film reels for archiving is also said to bring qualitative improvements to data. "When we shoot something digitally — with zeros and ones representing the pixels on the screen ­— and print that to an analog medium called film, you destroy the original pixel values. And, sure, it looks pretty good, but it’s not reversible," said Brad Collar, SVP of global archives and media engineering at Warner Bros.

He said that using a medium like silica glass enables data to be read back exactly like when it came out of the camera, preserving original pixels in the best possible manner. 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.

Contrary to pits and lands created on the surface of optical discs, Project Silica involves burning "voxels" into glass in a 3D array to allow for a high storage density, where a 2 mm thick piece of glass can contain over 100 layers of voxels that physically deform the glass through laser pulses.

The encoded data is also read faster as compared to spooling tape storage as algorithms can quickly pinpoint anywhere within the glass, potentially reducing lag time for retrieving the required information.

"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," said Colf, adding that if the solution works for them, it can also benefit anyone who wants to preserve and archive content.

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SirDigby

TS Evangelist
Platinum
So now I'll have to buy it on another format?!? Great. /s
I don't think this is meant for consumers, more for movie archives? If they wanted to store copious amounts of data in a small space then they could just do it digitally...
 

dualkelly

TS Booster
I don't think this is meant for consumers, more for movie archives? If they wanted to store copious amounts of data in a small space then they could just do it digitally...
The problem is long term. Digital data will have degradation long term just like the film. Hard drives may possibly last a few decades but something like this could last thousands of years without any change to the glass. Not to mention hard drives having moving components that are prone to breaking over the years.
 
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dualkelly

TS Booster
This is a bit bigger than I thought. Imagine how much space you need to store all existing movies.
This would technically be an alpha or beta version. In 1956, the first hard drive to be sold commercially was invented by IBM. This hard drive, shipped with the RAMAC 305 system, was the size of two refrigerators and weighed about a ton. It held 5MB of data, at a cost of $10,000 per megabyte.
 
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Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
But ... if they were able to bring it to the consumer market for a reasonable price I can't help but think it would be a real winner!
 
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SirDigby

TS Evangelist
Platinum
But ... if they were able to bring it to the consumer market for a reasonable price I can't help but think it would be a real winner!
I don't see how it would be rewritable though, unless you give each self contained unit the chance to 'wipe' everything, but then it could only do so many wipes before gone.
For the data private I imagine there'd also be some issues?
 
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mbrowne5061

TS Evangelist
I don't see how it would be rewritable though, unless you give each self contained unit the chance to 'wipe' everything, but then it could only do so many wipes before gone.
For the data private I imagine there'd also be some issues?
Most optical media isn't re-writable though, not unless you make a point of it. Video quality is about to outstrip bandwidth again. Even now, unless you have fiber or a true broadband, streaming 4K is pretty much a pipe dream, especially for any HDR content. 8K isn't too far off. Even with good internet, you can still run into buffer issues and reduced quality due to compression. This is why things like Redbox still exist; the physical video rental model isn't dead (nor is physical media), just the Blockbuster model.

If they could make this cheap enough for the consumer, small enough to fit in a TV stand, and fast enough for 'live' video playback, I can definitely see this becoming a consumer format for 8K HDR, etc.
 

XtremeHammond

TS Addict
I don't see how it would be rewritable though, unless you give each self contained unit the chance to 'wipe' everything, but then it could only do so many wipes before gone.
For the data private I imagine there'd also be some issues?
Not rewritable - that's the whole purpose of this technology.

And for consumers this means free space from their photo, video & audio data they store on current storage devices.
 
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hahahanoobs

TS Evangelist
A couple of you skipped over this important part:
"We are not trying to build things that you put in your house or play movies from. We are building storage that operates at the cloud scale"

And it is stored digitally:
"When we shoot something digitally — with zeros and ones representing the pixels on the screen ­— and print that to an analog medium called film, you destroy the original pixel values. And, sure, it looks pretty good, but it’s not reversible"
 
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Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
I don't see how it would be rewritable though, unless you give each self contained unit the chance to 'wipe' everything, but then it could only do so many wipes before gone.
For the data private I imagine there'd also be some issues?
True but if you want it to be an archive would you want it to be rewrite able? Personally I would want it to stay the same without fear of corruption of any kind .... guess it's' just a matter of your personal taste ....
 

mailpup

TS Special Forces
I don't think this is meant for consumers, more for movie archives? If they wanted to store copious amounts of data in a small space then they could just do it digitally...
"We are not trying to build things that you put in your house or play movies from. We are building storage that operates at the cloud scale," said Ant Rowstron...
While you guys are absolutely correct, you may have overlooked the "/s" at the end of Hardware Geek's post. :)
 

Hardware Geek

TS Addict
While you guys are absolutely correct, you may have overlooked the "/s" at the end of Hardware Geek's post. :)
Nobody has a sense of humor. Next time maybe I'll have to put. /SARCASM but even then people wouldn't get that it was meant to be funny. I'm glad you got it though!
 
But still less than reels of film + no real requirements for environment controls to be as robust.

A step in the light direction if you ask me
I "see" what you did there.

Seriously, though, that's not too bad. It seems big, but it's essentially the size of a MiniDVD/MiniBlu-Ray (8cm diameter disc, 1.2mm thick), which is smaller than a standard DVD/Blu-Ray (12cm diameter) but the same size as the old GameCube discs.

Granted, since they used a rectangular solid instead of a cylinder, they actually have about twice the actual volume compared to a MiniBlu-Ray disc (actual ratio is 1.8651:1). But, if you engineered a Blu-Ray-format disc with the same volume as their solid, it would only hold maybe 27.1GB of data...& they stored 75.6GB on theirs. That's almost 3 times the storage density (actual amount is 2.793 times the storage density).

I think the biggest issues they'll have bringing this to consumers is twofold. First, I'm guessing it doesn't use the same lasers as used for DVDs & Blu-Rays -- & may not use lasers at all -- so reading any such discs would require a brand-new unit that would be difficult to make backwards-compatible with Blu-Rays & DVDs (not impossible, just difficult & expensive). Second, I don't see any information about how long it takes to encode the data into this material, let alone how quickly the data can be read/decoded. Unless the "read speed" is at least similar to existing DVD/Blu-Ray technology, its viability for home use will be for pure data backup (I.e. storing those photos/videos/files you absolutely, positively cannot afford to lose), rather than popping into a device to watch on your TV screen.
 
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Emrys

TS Rookie
@GreenNova343 - but, again, this is not intended for the consumer market.

Understand what that means... they're likely going to be selling the writers for 5-digit dollar values, and readers in the 4-digit range, possibly into the (very) low 5-digit range. Yeah, sure, just like BR-writing optical drives, when people get their hands on these, they're going to want them for the home, and eventually the prices will come down to something approximating "affordable"... but, assuming this is "alpha" level (this being the announcement of the very first successful real-world application of the tech), it's likely that we're looking at v1.0 around Q2 or Q3 of 2021. Then it's probably not until around 2025 before they start becoming vaguely "reasonable" in price! I'd love to have this tech just as much as you guys would, but you really need to start looking at this announcement with some RealWorld glasses!

I'm betting that the minimum storage capacity for the initial release will probably be around 1TB for the same media size/shape as shown in the photos above... and while clear is cool, I believe this thing is detecting physical deformations in the media, which could very well utilize wavelengths that are not dependent upon the media being transparent.

...Am I the only one picturing (TOS) Spock at a conference room table, running through a small deck of "data library portable storage units", popping them into and pulling them out of a library computer access terminal? O! be still, my beating frontal cortex!!
 
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Oh, no, I wasn't assuming any time "soon" we would be seeing it available to consumers. And like I said, they'd have to make sure that the data transfer rates are at least at DVD level, for home video use -- preferably Blu-Ray or faster level to allow for 4K (or more likely 8K & even 16K) definition video playback.

But yeah, color those things in primary colors -- especially red & yellow -- & they'd look just like the squares that Spock would snap into the old library computer...
 
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arrowflash

TS Booster
True but if you want it to be an archive would you want it to be rewrite able? Personally I would want it to stay the same without fear of corruption of any kind .... guess it's' just a matter of your personal taste ....
Rewritable is always, always better! I often have to update my backups with higher quality / new versions of the stuff I backup. Even when it comes to my own self-generated content like work related projects, personal videos and photos, etc I often find myself reviewing and updating them. If the backup media I used wasn't rewritable, nowadays I'd have terabytes of almost useless coasters with multiple outdated versions of my backups... I remember this was already starting to present a problem for me back when CD-Rs were a recent technology and CD-RW drives and media weren't available or affordable yet. Thankfully rewritable optical media became ubiquitous very quickly, and a few years later on I just switched to using portable / external hard drives for my backup needs since the cost/GB fell a lot.

Also, the ability for backup media to be rewritable or not, has little to do with durability or reliability, I notice people often make this misconception. I have a few CD-RWs and DVD-RWs burned in the early 2000s that are still perfectly readable and even reusable (I tried a couple a while back), while I had a few gold-rated write-once CD-Rs from the same era that became unreadable after 6 or 7 years.