Project Silica

Project Silica






The demand for long-term data storage is reaching unprecedented levels. By 2023, it’s expected that over 100 zettabytes of data will be stored in the cloud. Operating at such scales requires a fundamental re-thinking of how we build large-scale storage systems, as well as the underlying storage technologies that underpin them.

Project Silica is developing the first-ever storage technology designed and built from the media up, for the cloud. We are leveraging recent discoveries in ultrafast laser optics to store data in quartz glass by using femtosecond lasers, and building a completely new storage system designed from scratch around this technology. This opens up an incredibly exciting opportunity to challenge and completely re-think traditional storage system design, and to co-design the future hardware and software infrastructure for the cloud.

We are hiring for this and related projects: Researchers in Storage Software and Optical Systems, and internships in Software, FPGA, Electronics and Optics.

This project is a collaboration with the University of Southampton Optoelectonics Research Centre, and was featured in a Microsoft Ignite 2017 keynote on future storage technologies.

Project Silica is part of the broader Optics for the Cloud project, which explores the future of cloud infrastructure at the intersection of optics and computer science.

In September 2017, Mark Russinovich, CTO of Azure, announced a number of new collaborations with MSR Cambridge including Project Silica. See Mark present the impressive early results (watch from 1:01:13 – 1:03:18).


Blogs & news

Optics for the cloud: storage in the zettabyte era with Dr. Ant Rowstron and Mark Russinovich

Remember when a hard drive that could hold a terabyte of data was a big deal? Well, we’re now in an era where peta-, exa- and even zetta-bytes are the bytes of the day, and it turns out it’s hard to fit that many zeroes on a hard drive. That’s where Dr. Ant Rowstron, Deputy Lab Director of Microsoft Research Cambridge, and Mark Russinovich, Chief Technical Officer of Azure, come in. Their respective teams are working on paradigm-breaking solutions to give us phenomenal storage power in an itty-bitty living space.

Microsoft Research Podcast | November 6, 2019

Project Silica proof of concept stores Warner Bros. ‘Superman’ movie on quartz glass

Microsoft and Warner Bros. have collaborated to successfully store and retrieve the entire 1978 iconic “Superman” movie on a piece of glass roughly the size of a drink coaster, 75 by 75 by 2 millimeters thick. It was the first proof of concept test for Project Silica, a Microsoft Research project that uses recent discoveries in ultrafast laser optics and artificial intelligence to store data in quartz glass…

Microsoft Innovation Stories | November 4, 2019

Optics for the Cloud Research Alliance establishes collaborative research approach to improving cloud technology

The cloud is an enormous success story. Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud offering, was launched in 2010. It has grown by more than ten times in the past five years and is now operating in 54 regions around the world. Azure Chief Technology Officer, Mark Russinovich, asserts that “the fundamental disruption that the cloud is creating is based on instant access to compute and infinite storage”…

Microsoft Research Blog | August 7, 2019