AUSTRALIA 25, January 2021: Tape Ark announces it has collaborated with Microsoft Project Silica via a proof of concept, to successfully store the computer code for its mass tape to cloud ingest technology (ArkBridge), in glass.

Tape Ark knows firsthand the issues seen with historical tape bound data sets including stiction, print through magnetic interference and climate related deterioration. Microsoft’s Project Silica is a welcome development in the quest to create a more environmentally sustainable alternative to long-term archival storage.

Project Silica uses fused silica glass as a storage technology designed and built to provide long lasting archival data storage in cloud-scale capacity. It’s seen as a much-welcomed development for critical long term historical archive storage purposes and perpetual data retention. As data is written inside the glass with this technology, it will not decay.

The benefits of Silica 

Tape has been an important part of the long-term data storage and retention landscape for almost 50 years, and although it has been known to have its limitations, tape has largely been reliable and cost effective.

Silica, however, eliminates limitations seen in historical recording media such as stiction and device orphaning (where recorded media has no devices available to read them). Device orphaning has seen significant data sets sitting in long term storage that are of global importance, become inaccessible and at high risk of loss.

Silica is the first-ever storage technology designed and built from the media up, directly for the cloud. Since Silica is based on fused silica glass media, which is inert and requires no bonding, it opens up an incredibly exciting opportunity to challenge and completely re-think traditional storage system design.

The impact of using glass as storage

In Project Silica, Microsoft is using recent discoveries in ultrafast laser optics and artificial intelligence to store data in glass. The data does not decay even if the glass is boiled in water, baked in an oven, microwaved, scoured, demagnetised or subjected to other environmental threats.

This opens up an incredibly exciting opportunity to challenge and completely re-think traditional archival storage system design, and to redesign the future hardware and software infrastructure for the cloud.

Long-term archival storage costs are driven up by the need to repeatedly transfer data onto newer media before the information is lost. This transfer process is typically carried out on magnetic tape every five to seven years to stay ahead of the data loss that will eventually ensue. Both the media and the equipment needed to do this continual upgrading are expensive.

Glass storage has the potential to become a better match for this long-term archival data because the data is only written into the glass once and can survive for thousands of years – in almost any environment.

As well as being plentiful, durable, and long-lasting, the media in Project Silica greatly contributes to sustainability, as it requires minimal environmental controls in storage and never needs to be re-written.


Tape Ark and Microsoft are set to start the world’s largest ever tape to cloud ingest project

In April 2021, the UK Met Office awarded a multimillion-pound agreement with Microsoft, part of the £1.2 bn committed by the Government to the Met Office, for the provision of a world-leading supercomputing capability that will take weather and climate forecasting to the next level and help the UK stay safe and thrive.

This new supercomputing service is expected to be the world’s most advanced dedicated to weather and climate. The data it generates will be used to provide more accurate warnings of severe weather, helping to build resilience and protect the UK population, businesses and infrastructure from the impacts of increasingly extreme storms, floods and snow.

Microsoft has in turn put in place an agreement with Tape Ark to perform mass tape to cloud ingest of the tape collection generated by the UK Met Office over the last several decades. The project is considered the largest tape to cloud ingest project ever undertaken with over 220 Petabytes of data to be moved from tape into Microsoft Azure.

“We are extremely pleased to work with Microsoft on this project as we continue to move towards our greater purpose of liberating the most valuable data collections on the planet, so that new discoveries can be made.  To be doing this for projects related to climate change and global warming has given the whole team at Tape Ark a real sense of purpose.” Said Guy Holmes, Founder and CEO of Tape Ark.

Going mainstream from tape to glass 

Tape Ark is the world’s leading tape to cloud ingest company, with its sights set on liberating the world’s largest collections of data into the public cloud so that companies can move away from their tape collections, and benefit from the new insights they can gain from their historical data collections.  At Tape Ark, we believe that some of the most profound discoveries that will be made in the near future, will be from the data that currently resides offline and is inaccessible to the modern tool sets like AI and ML that are available today in the cloud.  Project Silica stands to be the first truly permanent, immutable, and secure version of the world’s data that has ever been created.

“I have personally overseen the transfer of millions of tapes in my career, and tape deterioration and the lack of legacy hardware are real and very serious threats to some of the world’s most important collections of data. The movement towards a storage medium that Project Silica enables is one of the most welcome advances in data storage technology that I have seen in the last decade”, said Guy Holmes, Founder and CEO of Tape Ark.

Jurgen Willis, Vice President, Program Management, from Microsoft commented: “In this proof of concept, Microsoft and Tape Ark worked together to demonstrate how Project Silica can help achieve the goals of mass liberation of data assets from tape, while ensuring the assets’ long-term preservation is secure on a medium that will stand the test of time using innovative archival storage in glass.”