World Economic Forum Sees Coming Data Storage Crisis

By Hubert Yoshida posted 01-20-2020 19:10


The World Economic Forum assembled an international Steering Committee of leading technology experts to identify last year’s (2019) Top 10 Emerging Technologies. After soliciting nominations from experts from around the world, the Steering Committee selected 10 technologies based on the following criteria.


The technologies selected must have the potential to provide major benefits to societies and economies and could alter the established ways of doing things. These technologies are attracting a lot of interest from research labs, companies, and investor; and they are likely to make significant inroads in the next several years.


One of the technologies that was selected was DNA data storage which I blogged about in DNA Storage In A Zettabyte World. Paul Lewis and I also did a webex covering the future of AI, Quantum Computers, and DNA Storage: IT Trends: A look Into The Future, so I was glad to see that DNA storage was not such a farfetched idea and world wide organizations are beginning to pay attention.



The World Economic Forum reported that “By 2020, an estimated 1.7 megabytes
of data will be created per second per person globally, which translates into about 418 zettabytes in a single year.”
(418 billion one-terabyte hard drive’s worth of information) assuming a world population of 7.8 billion. This is significantly more than what IDC estimated in their report on the global data sphere. Last year IDC estimated that the global data sphere would grow to a cumulative 175 Zetta bytes by 2025. The creation of 418 zettabytes in one year can only mean that most of that data is not being saved since IDC also estimates that we currently ship only about 1 zettabyte of storage in a year. The majority of data that is being created today is done by consumer devices and machines, and is over written, but more of that data is being saved in data lakes for analysis, learning, and compliance.


The World Economic Forum also pointed out that current magnetic or optical data-storage systems that hold this volume of 0s and 1s is very short lived; and running data centers to hold this amount of storage would take huge amounts of energy. (Today data centers consume 2% of the worlds electricity with estimates that it will grow to 8% by 2030 according to Fortune Magazine. ) The World Economic forum concluded that we are about to have a serious data storage problem that will only become more severe over time.


They believe that the solution to this problem is in the commercialization of DNA storage. They noted the progress that is being made in the use of DNA’s, long chains of nucleotides, A, T, C, and G to store data in the sequences of these letters as an alternative to electronic storage. The advantage of using DNA storage, is that it can store massive amounts of data at a density far exceeding that of electronic devices. Researchers at Harvard, estimate that DNA could store 1019 bits per cubic cm and the entire amount of data that is generated in the world in one year could be stored in one cubic meter of DNA. The other advantage of DNA storage is that it could be preserved for 1000’s of year with very little energy consumption.



While I think their estimate of data may be overstated, I agree that we are facing a looming crisis in data storage unless we are able to use the densities that are inherent in DNA storage. Currently the costs and latencies of DNA storage makes it impractical. But it appears that the technology experts that were surveyed by the World Economic Forum sees progress being made in the development of DNA Storage.