Microsoft’s storage dream: a hard disk drive the size of a wardrobe with Samsung Galaxy S20 parts data center

At the company’s annual Ignite event for developers, Microsoft shed more light on the work it’s doing with holographic storage.

The firm’s research arm has gone back to the drawing board to rethink storage at a hyperscale level, starting by exploding the first dogma: that storage had to come in a 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch form factor.

After all, there’s no hard and fast rule saying that data center storage has to be based on consumer hard disk drives – or even enterprise SSDs. New formats like the ruler SSD form factor offer some innovation, but don’t really break the mould.

The smallest unit of deployment in cloud storage, say the researchers, is actually the storage rack, which is about the size of a cupboard and allows the designers to think of new hardware at rack scale.

According to a Microsoft blog post, this allows “components to be efficiently shared across the entire rack” and could end up shifting the paradigm for web hosting, IaaS and PaaS.

While Project Silica – another of Microsoft’s moonshot storage projects – looked at storing data for a long time using a write-only, read-many archival format, project HSD (for Hologram Storage Device) looks at how so-called hot data can be accessed faster and stored in even smaller volumes.

Samsung Galaxy S20 optics?

In the blog post, Microsoft shared an illustration highlighting the formidable rise in resolution of commodity camera sensors, which has grown from 1-megapixel to more than 100-megapixels in less than two decades.

Project HSD rides on the coat tails of this improvement, exploiting the resolution growth to simplify the (optical) hardware and moving the complexity to the software.

The 108-megapixel ISOCELL Bright HMX camera sensor was introduced more than one year ago by Samsung, in partnership with Xiaomi. It not only has a large image sensor but was also the first to break the 100-megapixel barrier, as it’s used in phones including the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Xiaomi Mi CC9 Pro Premium.

But Samsung wants to reach even greater heights and executive Yongin Park has already confirmed that a 600-megapixel sensor is the goal.

Someone at Microsoft Research will certainly take note, given that pairing consumer optics and Azure-based AI can significantly increase not only the storage density of HSD but also read/write speeds and access times.

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