DNA Data Storage: Could Data Really Live Forever?

By | Jan 30, 2013

Data backups and long term data archiving in coming decades may be in the form of biological DNA data storage. DNA carries the promise of vast density and stability, and could mean that data could last forever. According to an article in Technology Review, researcher Nick Goldman and his team from European Bioinformatics Institute have developed a way to encode certain data file formats onto synthesized DNA, using a method that can scale up to handle ever-growing quantities of digital data. The software also takes into consideration the possible degradation of the material and incorporates redundancy, so that if parts of the material do degrade, it is still likely that the data can be reconstructed.

The storage capacity of DNA is huge in comparison to existing technology - 2.2 petabytes per gram, according to the article. It is the cost of the technology that is still a barrier to its development as a commercially viable solution. At about $12,400 per megabyte to do data encoding for archiving purposes, and at over $200 per megabyte to read the data, costs are several orders of magnitude greater than the costs of storing to magnetic tape. However, the researchers believe that the cost will drop, meaning that DNA data archiving is projected to cost less than current magnetic tape archiving solutions, possibly within the next decade.

This unique DNA data storage solution may be of interest to midsize companies, in large part because they may find that even as their data demands grow, the budget for backing up and storing that data has remained the same for many years. IT managers who must plan for business continuity need better, cost effective data backup and storage solutions for the enterprise.

Also on the minds of IT managers at midsize companies is the issue of the persistence of data as it relates to record keeping and safeguarding of company information. Midsize companies may already have policies in place that dictate how long data needs to be kept, and who can see that data, but it is the IT shop that needs to ensure that policies are implemented and data safeguarded appropriately. It can be very challenging to maintain aging data infrastructures simply because they are needed to handle archived information that exists on older media forms. Newer, more cost-effective technologies for handling archived data are always of interest, particularly if they are accompanied by speedier access methods and excellent reliability.

As a side note, it is very interesting to consider that the midsize company could conceivably have a medium in DNA to archive every bit of information about itself for future generations of researchers to examine. Perhaps, 10,000 years from now, archived data scraped from DNA could be used to better understand the uniqueness and resiliency of the midsize enterprise.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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