DNA for Data Storage

In all my years of working with data, there’s one think I’ve learned: it always grow. Over the years, I’ve gone from having to store data in these sizes:

  • A few KB on cassette tapes as a middle school kid
  • Using 360k floppies to 720k for programming, then 1.44MB to 100MB ZIP drives to 600MB CDs to 4GB DVDs
  • 10MB HDDs that grew quickly to be GBs and currently are TB sized in my desktop
  • A flip phone that could handle dozens of contacts with a SIM card to MBs of data in a T-Mobile G1 to a 64GB phone today

In that time, I’ve often filled up many of those devices and needed more space. I am looking forward to seeing capacities grow again. My 64GB phone is full of pictures and video, and I need to manage the space periodically. The same thing for the 500GB in my laptop and the 2TB on my desktop. I need to add storage, and archive off some older information, but I certainly don’t want to lose any data, especially my pictures. Those might be the most valuable bits I have.

I am alternately disappointed and amazed by storage technology advances. Capacities have grown tremendously, but speed and latency have had fits and starts. SSDs were a great improvement, and I do look forward to the newer 3D flash for laptops and high performance servers. I am glad there are these large capacity HDDs, but maybe there’s a better way to store lots of data for the long term.

I ran cross this piece the shows the University of Washington and Microsoft working together to store data in synthetic DNA. They managed to store 200MB, which breaks the old record of 22MB. If they can improve the technology and make a commercial version, the theoretical storage could hold 1EB in a cubic inch. Even if we got 10% of this, 100TB in a little cube would be amazing. You can read more about the project at Microsoft Research.

I have no idea what the write and read latencies are, but this could provide a nice backup for lots of data that we want to keep around, especially for images, video, perhaps even old auditing or other data that needs cheap, reliable storage that lasts years. I know I’d like to have this capability as my collection of data continues to grow, sometimes at amazing rates. I just hope this is cheap enough for general use, since as a data guy, I’d likely want 3 copies of everything. You know, just in case.

Steve Jones

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About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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2 Responses to DNA for Data Storage

  1. pianorayk says:

    In my first job out of college, I remember when we got a 1GB tape drive, and it was a big deal. We used to take a small cassette tape and joke, “in my hand, I hold the Library of Congress.” My, how far we’ve come since then!


    • way0utwest says:

      It’s really amazing. I thought floppies would be with us forever. Now I can rarely find a USB drive because they’re mostly not needed.


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