DNA On Microchips: Big Data's Future Storage Answer? - InformationWeek
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DNA On Microchips: Big Data's Future Storage Answer?

By layering DNA on microchips, researchers say they will be able to store vast amounts of data in a very small space.

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Hard drive densities are also approaching their theoretical limit for data density just as big data, video, and audio content, social networking content, machine-to-machine data such as server logs, and the vast catalog of virtual machines, virtual applications, and other files that make up cloud or virtualized IT infrastructures are causing corporate data storage volumes to explode.

Big data is a major culprit in the out-of-control growth of demand for data storage online and in major corporations, according to analyst and vendor reports. End-user companies using scale-out network-attached storage systems told Aberdeen group their storage requirements are growing at 52% per year--which would double their on-site hardware requirement every year and a half, according to a March study from Aberdeen Group.

A separate study, published this month by networking giant Cisco Systems predicted the volume of data flowing over IP networks--all of which has to be stored somewhere--will increase four-fold by 2016, after increasing eight-fold during the past five years. Data from mobile devices will grow three times as fast as IP data, increasing 18-fold between 2011 and 2016; by 2016 the number of mobile devices connected to global networks will total three times the number of people available to use them, Cisco's survey predicted.

Though the technology that may be developed from the finding could yield dramatic results, data storage wasn't the main goal of Harvard geneticist George M. Church and the team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering who did the work and wrote the report.

Church's goal, according to Science, is to completely reinvent the human genetic code using synthetic DNA that could be used to replace or correct DNA that produces congenital diseases, curing patients using the body's own programming codes and control mechanisms.

As with most scientific breakthroughs, actual products with practical versions of the new technology may lag years behind publication of the initial results.

Church's and Kosuri's demonstration shows the medium can be used for high-volume storage, though recording the data took several days and reading it back took even longer.

The cost is dropping fast, too. In 2001 the cost of generating a million base pairs of DNA that could be used for data storage was about $10,000, according to the WSJ. Today that cost is about 10 cents per million.

If DNA microchips do turn out to be practical for the storage of data more workaday than instructions on whether a child's eyes should be blue or brown, however, the result could have a dramatic impact on the cost, physical layout, and amount of storage hardware required in large corporate data centers.

DNA microchips would use a fraction the power of either a flash drive or hard drive and pack many times the volume of data they can contain into a much smaller space.

They also use a fraction the amount of power required for large-scale magnetic storage of big data, according to Church's conclusions.

Together, those two functions could tame demand for power, space and hardware in enterprise data centers, the bulk of which comes from the need for more centralized storage to accommodate nearly every major trend in IT right now.

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