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Microsoft’s new data storage option for CMR Surgical – glass – lasts ‘tens of thousands of years’

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Microsoft has embarked on a pioneering new trial with CMR Surgical which involves storing data on a glass platter.

Luke Hares, CTO and co-founder, CMR Surgical, with the new Microsoft glass storage unit
Luke Hares, CTO and co-founder, CMR Surgical, with the new Microsoft glass storage unit

Clinical data from CMR’s portable surgical robot, Versius, was stored onto a small (75x75mm) proof-of-concept glass platter, “which can be safely preserved for 10,000 years as part of the new Project Silica trial by Microsoft”.

Long-term archival storage costs are driven up by the need to repeatedly transfer data onto newer media before the information is lost. Hard disk drives can wear out after three to five years. Magnetic tape may only last five to seven. Both the media and the equipment needed to do this continual upgrading are expensive.

Project Silica uses recent discoveries in ultrafast laser optics and artificial intelligence to store data in quartz glass. Microsoft created the new archive storage technology from the ground up, specifically for the cloud. The project 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. Glass storage has the potential to become better match for this long-term archival data because the data is only written into the glass once, and at room temperature the data will not decay.

While regular magnetic media can decay and be destroyed through environmental factors including EMP (electromagnetic pulse), water damage, heat, or abrasion, glass is not affected by EMP or water damage and is resilient to heat and abrasion. The hard silica glass can withstand being boiled in water, baked in an oven, microwaved, scoured and demagnetised. Microsoft says “it can survive for tens of thousands of years without the data decaying”.

As well as being plentiful, durable, and lasting for ages, the media in Project Silica greatly contributes to sustainability, as it requires no electricity or air conditioning in storage and never needs to be re- written.

Microsoft glass platter is used for data storage
Microsoft glass platter is used for data storage

CMR Surgical is dedicated to transforming the future of surgery and data is central to this mission. Through the Versius surgical robotic system and its wider digital ecosystem – including a registry and app – CMR collects and analyses large amounts of anonymised data from its minimal access (aka keyhole) surgeries. The data will help standardise surgery and improve patient outcomes.

Luke Hares, CTO of CMR, said: “Through this exciting trial with Microsoft, CMR has the opportunity to use a ground-breaking technology of the future to store a vast amount of clinical data safely and securely. This is important as collecting data across surgical practice will enable us to learn critical insights over time and realise our mission to make minimal access surgery available to everyone who could benefit. Working with Microsoft is a natural fit for CMR, as both companies are hugely passionate about realising the potential of data and technology to shape healthcare worldwide.”

Project Silica preserves surgery data, including procedural videos and telemetric data. Over the long term, eg a surgeon’s entire career, this can be harnessed for future training and clinical study.

Jurgen Willis, VP program management, Microsoft, said: “In this trial with CMR, Microsoft was able to demonstrate our innovation in long term archival storage. Long-term medical archival data can improve medical record management, enabling healthcare companies to help their patients more effectively. Working with CMR is an exciting milestone for Project Silica to learn more about long- term archival storage needs within the healthcare market.”

This trial with Microsoft comes at an exciting time for CMR Surgical having recently announced the introduction of the Versius Surgical Robotic System into two new major robotics markets, Australia and Germany. CMR continues to significantly increase its global footprint, with over 1,000 clinical cases completed to date.

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