DNA as a “Natural Server Farm”

DNA as a “Natural Server Farm”: The TCE Conference at Technion

The conference will mark the 50th anniversary of the formulation of the Viterbi Algorithm, which changed the world of electronics

The use of DNA to store digital information will be one of the main topics of Technion’s 7th TCE (Technion Computer Engineering) Conference, to be held on Wednesday and Thursday, June 21-22, 2017. The conference, named after Henry Taub, will focus on the coding of information and storage systems, and will include lectures on diverse topics such as coding that enables flash memory reliability, storage systems of high speeds in massive volumes, and the challenges of cloud storage and DNA storage.

The digital information stored by humanity is now measured in the tens of trillions of bytes. The rapidly growing quantities of information pose a highly complex challenge, because most of the information is stored on vast server farms that take up large areas and enormous energy, which causes considerable environmental damage.

In recent years, it has become clear that DNA, known to us from the world of biology, could serve as a “natural server farm” whose advantages surpass those of today’s conventional servers. DNA in live creatures is responsible for preserving vast quantities of information in a minimal physical volume for prolonged periods and without harmful errors. It is estimated that a single gram of DNA can store hundreds of millions of gigabytes (GB), and this information will be preserved for thousands of years (compared with the life span of a disk, which is only a few years).

The idea, which was first introduced and implemented back in the 1960s by geneticists at Harvard, has developed since then. In order to continue this progress, close cooperation is required between scientists, engineers, and coding experts. “The hard disk has been dramatically minimized over the years,” explains Asst. Prof. Eitan Yaakobi of Technion’s Faculty of Computer Science. “From the first gigantic hard disk, which was built in 1956 and contained 5 MB, through portable hard drives (flash memories) of 8 MB, to portable storage devices of 256 GB and disks that contain far more, this is tremendous progress. The problem is that further progress today is very limited because any additional miniaturization introduces a lot of noise to the system.”

The conference will mark the 50th anniversary of the Viterbi Algorithm, which has led to the development of communications and storage devices capable of removing noise and interference from relevant signals. Dr. Andrew Viterbi, who published his historic paper on this subject in 1967, received an honorary doctorate degree from Technion in 2000. Since then he has been a distinguished visiting professor at the Technion Faculty of Electrical Engineering, which recently changed its name to the Andrew and Erma Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering. In 2015, Dr. Viterbi donated $50 million to the Faculty. A special session to mark the 50th anniversary of the formulation of the Viterbi Algorithm will be held on the second day of the conference, and will be chaired by his colleague and friend, Prof. Paul Siegel.

The conference organizers, Yaakobi (Computer Science) and Asst. Prof. Yuval Cassuto (Electrical Engineering), are already third-generation experts in coding and information theory. They were preceded by Profs. Tuvi Etzion and Ronny Roth (Computer Science) and Neri Merhav and Shlomo Shamai (Electrical Engineering), who were students of Profs. Abraham Lempel and Jacob Ziv, who developed the important algorithm on which most data-compression (Zip, etc.) technologies are based.

The conference will take place in the Technion Faculty of Computer Science auditorium. For the conference program click here.

For further details: Technion Spokesperson Doron Shaham – 050-3109088