Microsoft's DNA storage tech may fit in an enterprise

Microsoft has apparently firmed up its plans for a DNA-based storage device that it expects to be commercially available within about three years.

The software giant originally unveiled its research into DNA as an archival storage medium last year; it described the technology being able to store the amount of data in "a big data center compressed into a few sugar cubes. Or all the publicly accessible data on the Internet slipped into a shoebox.

"That is the promise of DNA storage -- once scientists are able to scale the technology and overcome a series of technical hurdles," the company said in a 2016 blog post.

A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on the progress of its DNA storage research.

But in an article in MIT Technology Review, Doug Carmean, a partner architect at Microsoft Research, said the company hopes to create a "proto-commercial system in three years storing some amount of data on DNA in one of our data centers, for at least a boutique application."

The storage device was described by Carmean as about the size of a large, 1970s-era Xerox copier with a data write speed of only 400MBps -- something Carmean admitted needs to increase to 100MBps to compete with other archive storage mediums such as magnetic tape drives.

Natalya Yezhkova, a research director at IDC, said with the staggering rate at which digital data is growing, the necessity of a DNA-type storage medium will be critical in the next 10 to 15 years.

"Currently, the only way to address this growth is to increase footprint of data optimization techniques, whether that's compression or deduplication," Yezhkova said. "Those technologies are great, and mitigate some data growth, but in the longer term, we definitely need something else."

For example, some healthcare data must be stored for the life of a patient, and federal regulations for auditing and civil litigation purposes require some financial records to be stored for seven or more years.

And, as big data analytics evolve, more companies are finding ways to cull useful marketing information from their sales and customer data archives.

Then there's video, photograph and audio files, something every smart phone owner can create at their leisure and that's increasingly stored by cloud services.