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Why DNA Storage Won’t Make Data Centers Obsolete

Why DNA Storage Won’t Make Data Centers Obsolete

The subject of DNA storage is one that frequently crops up in the technology sector, offering a tantalizing alternative to current data storage options. A topic that is often discussed in combination with DNA data storage, is that of data centers and whether they will become obsolete in the future once this new form of biological data storage is adopted on a wider scale.

What DNA Storage Is

Despite sounding more like science fiction than science fact, DNA storage has regularly been making headlines for the past decade or so. The theoretical idea of using DNA for the purpose of data storage dates all the way back to the ‘60s when Soviet physicist Mikhail Neilman wrote about the possibility of encoding and decoding data on DNA strands, using a binary code system.

However, the theory of using DNA as a form of data storage wasn’t actually proved viable until 2007 when a DNA storage device was created at the University of Arizona. More recent advances include a 2012 project where an HTML copy of an entire book was encoded onto DNA, along with 11 JPG images and a JavaScript program – proving that different data formats can be successfully encoded and stored using DNA.

The actual process of using DNA as a form of data storage involves encoding binary digital data into letters A, C, G, and T – representing the four main compounds found in DNA.

Current Obstacles to Using DNA Data Storage

Currently, the main obstacle to DNA storage becoming commercially viable is cost and until DNA storage can achieve the economies of scale, it will remain in the field of scientific exploration, rather than a form of storage that can compete with the current options available such as flash storage or magnetic tape.

Even though DNA sequencing has gotten cheaper in recent years, storing the equivalent of 1 minute of high-quality audio data would still cost around $100,000, making DNA storage anything but a cost-effective option. Of course, it’s not just the encoding of the data that makes it a costly option, you’ll also have to pay every time you want to retrieve any data, and this doesn’t come cheap either.

Another obstacle to using DNA data storage is the rate at which data can be encoded on DNA. In order to make it a viable storage option, data needs to be moved at a rate of 100 megabytes per second. However, during a 2016 experiment by Microsoft, the rate of data transfer to DNA storage was only 400 bytes per second, far less than the encoding speed required for industry adoption.

The Future of DNA Storage and Data Centers

Rather than making data centers obsolete, DNA storage will actually guarantee their survival. The reality is that we are quickly approaching the limits of our current data storage options, while at the same time relying more and more on data for critical operations and services.

By adopting DNA storage in the future, data centers will continue to exist, although their design will likely change beyond recognition by that point, and be contained within a much smaller physical space than even the most advanced of data centers that currently exist. DNA storage will also eliminate the issue of updating data center technology regularly, in order to keep up with demand, and integrating both new and old hardware.

Simply put DNA doesn’t become obsolete or dated, and it never will. The future of data centers and the use of DNA storage means that digital data will remain intact for hundreds, possibly even thousands of years, in a way it cannot last on current hard drives.


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by Harvey Carr // Harvey Carr is a contributor to Businessing Magazine.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.