Scientists at Aston University are starting a research programme to tackle the global shortage of digital data storage. Currently, all the data we use is stored on banks of servers housed in huge warehouses, or data centres.
In the next three years, the total amount of data in the world – the global datasphere – is predicted to increase by 300%. However, as data centres account for around 1.5% of the world’s annual electricity usage, it has been recognised that building more data storage warehouses is not sustainable.
In order to solve this problem, Aston University has received funding totalling £204,031 to explore solutions.
Experts will develop a new technology to provide surfaces with channels less than five nanometres in width, around 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.
Keeping up with the demands of the modern world
This will enable increased capacity in data storage devices to cope with the mind-blowing amount of data produced around the world each day.
Dr Matt Derry, a lecturer in chemistry at the University’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, is leading the project which is in collaboration with Specialist Computer Centres (SCC) and Babeș-Bolyai University, Romania.
They will also be using the science facility, Diamond Light Source, as part of the data storage project. This works like a giant microscope, harnessing the power of electrons to produce bright light that scientists can use to study anything from fossils, jet engines, viruses, and vaccines.
The machine accelerates electrons to near light speeds so that they give off light ten billion times brighter than the Sun. These bright beams are then directed off into laboratories known as ‘beamlines’. Here, scientists use the light to study a vast range of subject matter, from new medicines and treatments for disease, to innovative engineering and cutting-edge technology. Whether it’s fragments of ancient paintings or unknown virus structures, at the synchrotron, scientists can study their samples using a machine that is 10,000 times more powerful than a traditional microscope.
Dr Derry said: “Simply building new data centres without improving data storage technologies is not a viable solution. Increasingly, we face the risk of a so-called data storage crunch and improved data storage solutions are imperative to keep up with the demands of the modern world.”
Increasing the efficiency of existing technologies
Dr Derry will be working with Dr Amit Kumar Sarkar, a researcher in materials chemistry, who is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Dr Sarkar said: “I’m delighted to be joining Aston University to develop more efficient data storage technologies. We will be exploiting advanced polymer chemistry as a pathway to increase the amount of data that can be housed on storage media.
“Increasing the efficiency of existing technologies will significantly reduce the need for costly, environmentally damaging construction of new ‘mega data storage centres’. The next three years will be crucial. The global datasphere is predicted to increase to 175 zettabytes, with one zettabyte being approximately equal to one billion terabytes.”
The research will contribute to the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) 2022-2027 strategy, and the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.
As well as data storage, it also has the potential to impact other technologies where performance relies on creating regular patterns on the nanometre scale, such as organic electronics for solar energy.