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Your next hard disk drive could contain glass

petabyte hard disk drive
(Image credit: Jonathan Banks / Microsoft)

Glass could become a vital component in the world’s first petabyte hard drive in order to satiate humanity's thirst for data storage. That is the growing consensus among storage manufacturers worldwide.

IDC predicts that by 2025, the world will produce 175 zettabytes (ZB) of data, fuelled by the rise in demand for high resolution video and growing IoT networks. That’s nearly six times more than in 2018. By the end of the decade, we could even reach the mind-boggling trillion terabyte mark, given that one ZB is equal to one billion TB.

It was Microsoft’s Project Silica that first brought optical data storage into the limelight. Researchers at the world’s largest software company - and the second biggest hyperscaler next to AWS - managed to pack 75.6GB of data onto a piece of fused silica about the size of a 2.5-inch hard disk drive.

To put that into perspective, the world's largest hard disk drives currently max out at 20TB and are in a much larger 3.5-inch form factor.

In a statement to IEEE Explore, Seagate CTO John Morris confirmed its R&D lab is also working on using glass as a medium for optical data storage. “The challenge is to develop systems that can read and write with reasonable throughput,” he said.

Needless to say, rivals such as Western Digital, Toshiba and even Samsung are likely to be following the same route.

However, there are some rather significant challenges to be solved first. Right now, the medium is read-only, making it perfect for Write-Once, Read-Many (WORM) use cases.

Further, given there won’t be any terabit internet connection for at least a few decades, backing up one of these monsters to a cloud storage provider might take more than a lifetime, once they hit the market.