Alternative data storage technologies — such as synthetic DNA and etched glass—are in development to meet growing demand. Current data storage media (e.g., magnetic tapes, DVDs, and hard drives) are likely insufficient to meet the emerging global data storage needs, which are currently estimated to be around 97 trillion gigabytes. Demand is expected to double by 2025.
The plastic and magnetic materials in current storage degrade over time and the technologies become obsolete by newer technology, requiring replacement as often as every 3 years. In addition, researchers estimate that by 2040, 2.4 billion kilograms of wafer-grade silicon—a high-purity component of computer chips and storage devices—would be needed to store the world’s data. Yet the projected supply is estimated to be only 1 percent of demand. Furthermore, current data storage systems require large, energy-intensive facilities to operate and slow degradation of the storage media. Data centers have a significant environmental impact—reportedly consuming about 2 percent of the world’s electricity as of January 2020 and potentially reaching 8 percent by 2030.
How does it work? Synthetic DNA and glass data storage have greater storage capacity and, when stored properly, are more durable than current technologies.
In nature, DNA has been storing information since life began. The same coding system can be used to store digital information in an artificial DNA strand—created in a lab, not by a biological organism. To read the data, established technology known as sequencing can decode DNA. DNA can hold over 11 trillion gigabytes in a cubic inch of material.