A knowledge ark, the Arch project

Read an article last week on the Arch Mission Foundation project, which is a non-profit, organization that intends “to continuously preserve and disseminate human knowledge throughout time and space”.

The way I read this is they want to capture, preserve  and replicate all mankind’s knowledge onto (semi-)permanent media and store this information  at various locations around the globe and wherever we may go.

Interesting way to go about doing this. There are plenty of questions and considerations to capturing all of mankind’s knowledge.

Google’s way

 Google has electronically scanned every book in a number of library partners to help provide a searchable database of literature, check out the Google Books Library Project.

There’s over 40 library partners around the globe and the intent of the project was to digitize their collections. The library partners can then provide access to their digital copies. Google will provide full access to books in the public domain and will provide search results for all the rest, with pointers as to where the books can be found in libraries, purchased and otherwise obtained.

Google Books can be searched at Google Books. Last I heard they had digitized over 30M books from their library partners, which is pretty impressive since the Library of Congress has around 37M books. Google Books is starting to scan magazines as well.

Arch’s way

The intent is to create Arch’s (pronounced Ark’s) that can last billions of years. The organization is funding R&D into long lived storage technologies.

Some of these technologies include:

  • 5D laser optical data storage in quartz, I wrote about this before (see my 5D storage … post). Essentially, they are able to record two-tone scans of documents in transparent quartz that can last eons. Data is recorded in 5 dimensions, size of dot, polarity of dot  and 3 layers of dot locations through the media. 5D media lasts for 1000s of years.
  • Nickel ion-beam atomic scale storage, couldn’t find much on this online but we suppose this technology uses ion-beams to etch a nickel surface with nano-scale information.
  • Molecular storage on DNA molecules, I wrote about this before as well (see my DNA as storage… post) but there’s been plenty of research on this more recently. A group from Padua, IT  shows the way forward to use bacteria as a read/write head for DNA storage and there are claims that a gram of DNA could hold a ZB (zettabyte, 10**21 bytes) of data. For some reason Microsoft has been very active in researching this technology and plan to add it to Azure someday.
  • Durable space based flash drives, couldn’t find anything on this technology but assume this is some variant of NAND storage optimized for long duration.  Current NAND loses charge over time. Alternatively, this could be a version of other NVM storage, such as, MRAM, 3DX, ReRAM, Graphene Flash, and  Memristor all of which I have written about
  • Long duration DVD technology, this is sort of old school but there exists archive class WORM DVDs out and available on the market today, (see my post on M[illeniata]-Disc…).
  • Quantum information storage, current quantum memory lifetimes don’t much over exceed 180 seconds, but this is storage not memory. Couldn’t find much else on this, but it might be referring to permanent data storage with light.
M-Disc (c) 2011 Millenniata (from their website)
M-Disc (c) 2011 Millenniata (from their website)

They seem technology agnostic but want something that will last forever.

But what knowledge do they plan to store

In Arch’s FAQ they talk about open data sets like Wikipedia and the Internet Archive. But they have an interesting perspective on which knowledge to save. From an advanced future civilization perspective, they are probably not as interested in our science and technology but rather more interested in our history, art and culture.

They believe that science and technology should be roughly the same in every advanced civilization. But history, art and culture are going to be vastly different across different civilizations. As such, history, art and culture are uniquely valuable to some future version of ourselves or any other advanced scientific civilization.


Arch intends to have multiple libraries positioned on the Earth, on the Moon and Mars over time. And they are actively looking for donations and participation (see link above).

Although, I agree that culture, art and history will be most beneficial to any advanced civilization. But there’s always a small but distinct probability that we may not continue to exist as an advanced scientific civilization. In that case, I would think, science and technology would also be needed to boot strap civilization.

To the Wikipedia, I would add GitHub, probably Google Books, and PLOS as well as any other publicly available scientific or humanities journals that available.

And don’t get me started on what format to record the data with. Needless to say, out-dated formats are going to be a major concern for anything but a 2D scan of information after about ten years or so.

In any case, humanity and universanity needs something like this.

Photo Credit(s): The Arch Mission Foundation web page

Google Books Library search on Republic results

“Five dimensional glass disks …” from The Verge

M-disk web page

ReRAM to the rescue

I was at the Solid State Storage Symposium a couple of weeks ago where Robin Harris (StorageMojo) gave the keynote presentation. In his talk, Robin mentioned a new technology on the horizon which holds the promise of replacing DRAM, SRAM and NAND called resistive random access memory (ReRAM or RRAM).

If so, ReRAM will enter the technological race pitting MRAM, Graphene Flash, PCM and racetrack memory as followons for NAND technology.  But none of these have any intention of replacing DRAM.

Problems with NAND

There are a few problems with NAND today but the main problem that affects future NAND technologies is as devices shrink they lose endurance. For instance, today’s SLC NAND technology has an endurance of ~100K P/E (program/erase) cycles, MLC NAND can endure around 5000 P/E cycles and eMLC somewhere in between.  Newly emerging TLC (three bits/cell) has less even endurance than MLC.

But that’s all at 30nm or larger.  The belief is that as NAND feature size shrinks below 20nm its endurance will get much worse, perhaps orders of magnitude worse.

While MLC may be ok for enterprise storage today, much less than 5000 P/E cycles could become a problem and would require ever more sophistication in order to work around these limitation.    Which is why most enterprise class, MLC NAND based storage uses specialized algorithms and NAND controller functionality to support storage reliability and durability.

ReRAM solves NAND, DRAM and NvRAM problems.

Enter ReRAM, it has the potential to be faster than PCM-RAM, has smaller features than MRAM which means more bits per square inch and uses lower voltage than racetrack memory and NAND.    The other nice thing about ReRAM is that it seems readily scaleable to below 30nm feature geometries.  Also as it’s a static memory it doesn’t have to be refreshed like DRAM and thus uses less power.

In addition, it appears that  ReRAM is much more flexible than NAND or DRAM which can be designed and/or tailored to support different memory requirements.   Thus, one ReRAM design can be focused on standard  DRAM applications while another ReRAM design can be targeted at mass storage or solid state drives (SSD).

On the negative side there are still some problems with ReRAM, namely the large “sneak parasitic current” [whatever that is] that impacts adjacent bit cells and drains power.  There are a few solutions to this problem but none yet completely satisfactory.

But it’s a ways out, isn’t it?

No it’s not. BBC and Tech-On reported that Panasonic will start sampling devices soon and plan to reach volume manufacturing next year.   Elpida-Sharp  and HP-Hynix are also at work on ReRAM (or memristor) devices and expect to ship sometime in 2013.  But for the moment it appears that Panasonic is ahead of the pack.

At first, these devices will likely emerge in low power applications but as vendors ramp up development and mass production it’s unclear where it will ultimately end up.

The allure of ReRAM technology is significant in that it holds out the promise of replacing both RAM and NAND used in consumer devices as well as IT equipment with the same single technology.  If you consider that the combined current market for DRAM and NAND is over $50B, people start to notice.


Whether ReRAM will meet all of its objectives is yet TBD.  But we seldom see any one technology which has this high a potential.  The one remaining question is why everybody else isn’t going after ReRAM as well, like Samsung, Toshiba and Intel-Micron.

I have to thank StorageMojo and the Solid State Storage Symposium team for bringing ReRAM to my attention.

[Update] @storagezilla (Mark Twomey) said that “… Micron’s aquisition of Elpida gives them a play there.”

Wasn’t aware of that but yes they are definitely in the hunt now.


Image: Memristor by Luke Kilpatrick